The internet is a wonderful, scary, huge, small, toxic, beautiful space. It's a space where I have met so many strong supportive women and people. And although I have yet to meet many of them in person, I have made so many true and important friends here. I'm not sure how I came to follow Cynthia on instagram but it was probably through her doula posts. I loved her honesty and imperfect squares. I loved her soul that you could just feel spill through the screen.
Cynthia and her husband, Cassady, had difficulty conceiving and after turning to IVF Cynthia was able to grow and carry her beautiful little girl Penny. She shared her story on her page and with each new piece of herself she shared, I felt a deep investment in her story. When it finally came time for the birth of her lucky Penny I couldn't wait for her to transform into the mother that I had learned to know she so desperately wanted and deserved to be. Right after Penny's birth Cynthia opened up about her home birth turned cesarean. After starting this space I reached out to her to see if she wanted to share any parts of her motherhood journey because I knew it was a story that so many could relate to. It has been two years to the day that Cynthia started her labor and she is just now ready and able to share.
There is a misconception in our society that how a person births is irrelevant if the result is a happy healthy mom and baby. How a person births has a deep and scarring effect. Some scars are physical and some emotional. Some scars tell beautiful and happy stories and some carry pain that never goes away. The fact that it has taken Cynthia two years to open up about her birth story proves just this. There is no timeline on which you have to heal by, when it comes to your birth. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
I want to thank Cynthia for always being so open and raw about her story and I hope that no matter where you are in your healing process, that her story will help you feel the solidarity in motherhood that this site was created for.
6 days is the length of a decent vacation
6 days is longer than the standard work week
6 days is 144 hours
6 days is the amount of time I labored with my heart and soul to get my little girl earth side.
6 days I barely ate.
6 days I barely slept.
When people asked why I went so long the answer is pretty simple. There was never any reason not to other than the fact that it was taking a long time. Every stress test every time they checked her heart rate she never once in 6 days had a dip in her heart rate. I was very closely monitored and my levels and the babies levels all stayed the same and I never spiked a fever.
I dreamt about having a homebirth for as long as I can remember. As a Birth Doula I watched so many woman bring their babies into the world and I couldn’t wait to join this beautiful club.
When we found out that we could not conceive a baby naturally and ivf was our only option I clung to my dreams of getting to bring my baby from their first home (my body) to earthside at home. All the shots, blood test and ultrasounds, along with all the people being involved, carried my heart deeper into the homebirth haven.
When I went into labor I was excited. I wasn’t afraid. I sat on my birthing ball and listened to my hypno birthing and let my husband sleep. With my birth training knowledge I knew even though the contractions were coming consistently it was still too early to alert anyone. For a few hours I paced in the apartment contracting by the light of the Christmas tree. I felt my baby dancing around in my belly. Around 4am we contacted our Doula. I got into the shower to see if my contractions would slow down any but they stayed steady at 3/4 minutes apart. Our Doula came and contractions kept building. Around 9:30am our Doula alerted our midwife that it was looking like she needed to come. She looked me in the eyes and said your going to have a baby today. Contractions were staked ontop of one another and our midwife suggested doing a vaginal exam. So I laid on my sofa and took a deep breath. It felt like she was ripping my body in two. She seemed confused. I had already been laboring for 12 hours and I wasn’t dilated. She seemed dumbfounded. She asked if she could invite another midwife to come check. I said okay and after a few more hours of laboring the second Midwife came. She came and confirmed I had yet to start dilating. I felt defeat but I was like this is my first baby and me and my body have this. So everyone left and I was alone with my husband and mother. The contractions didn’t stop. Around 9pm the next night I was laboring on my bed and with a giant contraction my water broke while I was in the arms of my husband and mother. My mom said “this was good this is what we were waiting for.” So we rang the Doula and the midwife and everyone came back over. Even though I was ruptured our midwife said she wanted to do another check. I was dilated 4cm and fully effaced. This felt like a huge victory after 2 days of labor. I was like okay I got this. My midwife had another mama in labor so said she was leaving but that she would return soon. I felt good and got into the tub and just kept trucking along.
After she returned from her birth it was the first time I saw a side of her I didn’t really love. She said “sorry but it was her (3rd or so baby foggy on that detail) but continued to say that that mama deserved it.” I wasn’t upset or put off in the slightest that another baby was born before mine. But for some reason she wanted me to be.
Everyone ordered pizza and gathered in the kitchen. I labored in my bathtub determined to get this baby out. Later my midwife and Doula took me outside to walk and lunge and get the baby moving.
We paced up and down the blocks and with every contraction we used the stoops to help open me up. I lunged and leaned into each wave and begged that baby to get moving, people on the street yelled that someone needed to get me to the hospital but we kept moving. I started feeling weak and tired. It had been 3 days and I was beginning to think that there was never going to be a baby.
We got back to the apartment and they suggested I try and get a little rest. So they made me a little cocoon that I could rest on. They got me benodryl in hopes that it would make me drowsy enough to sleep. Cassady laid down and I watch him snooze a little relived he was getting some rest. My Doula slept on the floor. I laid down but was awaken with a contraction every 3 minutes. I couldn’t stay laying down because it hurt too much. So I would jump up in pain and my midwife would push against my back and I would breathe and push through as best I could. Reminding myself of every mantra I had told the laboring mamas before me.
The morning came again and our midwife and Doula left. My Doula friend came over and walked around with me to get me out. Contractions slowed a little at this point so that evening my midwife suggested I take caster oil and see if that just took everything up a notch.
We walked to the ice cream shop (contracting all the way) and got my favorite flavor and made a little milkshake to drink. Within the hour the contractions had gone from intense to barely tolerable. I was paralyzed on the floor. Everything but the baby was pouring out of my body. Finally there was some blood! I was so relived. Things were happening. So slowly but they were indeed happening. For hours I was on all fours in the light of the night with my body getting rid of everything. My husband attending to both ends of my body. Cleaning vomit and comforting me as best he could.
I don’t remember at what point or what day it was by this point but our midwife suggested we do another exam. 7cm this was huge. 5 days and 7cm I was so close. Our acupuncturist came and I sobbed as she put tiny needles into me. I tried to mediate and let me body relax. I contracted. My friend came to deliver food. And another friend came and did reiki she said that it wasn’t my body and that the baby was trying but couldn’t.
My midwife had me get on all four and try pushing to see if I’d open up more with a contraction. So she put her arm inside me with a contraction held me open. When I first met my midwife she said that she felt like I was just going to plop the baby out on the kitchen floor. She said we didn’t even need to discuss an alternate plan because she said she knew I was a rockstar.
The sun came up again and everyone’s energy had shifted. Our midwife suggested me might need to think about transferring. I was so sad. We went for a walk and I sobbed in my husbands arms. I didn’t understand. My body was made for this. Was it because there was no baby? Was I going to end up on the news as the lady who thought she was pregnant but had made it all up?? Slowly I was unraveling and fatigue was setting in.
We got back to the apartment and agreed to go to the hospital. There was still hope that this baby was going to come out vaginally but it wasn’t going to be here. My Doula and midwife said that maybe I just needed a little help.
The hour drive to New Jersey was awful. I couldn’t sit in my seat so I sat backward clinging to the headrest wildly contracting. Things were picking up. Maybe the fear made my body go into over drive.
Arriving at the hospital it was cold outside I realized the next time I would be outside I would no longer have a baby in my belly. However I wasn’t convinced there would be one in my arms. I remember my husband asking questions about insurance. I felt numb and disassociated from what was happening. They lead me to the room and hooked me up to iv fluids and we met with the new midwife. She said she thought I needed just a little help and this babe would be out. My husband snuck me in a grilled cheese.
Next came the pitocin the dreaded drug that is being sold to me as the ticket to holding my baby. So I agree to the pitocin as long as I don’t have to stay in the bed. So the needle goes in and I say a prayer. All of my hopes and dreams of how I envisioned bringing my baby into this world are shattered with that first drip. I believed in my body. Why wasn’t it working.
Around midnight they suggested giving me a sleeping aid. I agreed but that ended up being insane. It was a drug that made me hallucinate. I got in the bed and fell out of consciousness until the next contraction where I would be awoken without any recollection as to where I was. This happened every four minutes for hours. I was scared. I hated it. I wanted to escape my own body. I felt powerless and terrified every minute of this. I asked to be unhooked for just a little bit. They reluctantly agreed and I got to get in the shower. Tears and water streamed down my body. After 30 minutes they made me get hooked back up again.
The sun came up again. And the midwife came back and was shocked that I hadn’t yet gotten an epidural. 18 hours on pitocin at its highest volume
18 hours on pitocin and no change. . . I remember standing and trying to shake the baby out I screamed please please get out. But nothing.
The new game plan was that I needed to have an epidural to rest. They said my body was tired and I was going to need to get more strength to push. I reluctantly said okay. So they tied me up to the bed with cords and more cords
They inserted the epidural and my heart collapsed. I was like how am I going to have to say I had an epidural. I failed. I was so depleted that I couldn’t birth my baby. I laid down hoping that I would finally get some relief and wake up with the urge to push and my baby would be in my arms.
But the pain didn’t go away. The catheter hurt. I had been in labor for 6 days and this was the first time I had complained. I felt like a dog strapped down. The contractions became unbearable because I couldn’t move my body into a position to get some comfort. I couldn’t believe I was trapped in my worst fear.
I asked the nurse to please remove the catheter because it was hurting so badly. And she said that I couldn’t possibly feel it because I had had an epidural. But I begged and finally she did. It was such a relief. She told me I’d have to have it put back in eventually. So I said that I wanted someone else to do since it felt like she scrapped out my insides when she had inserted it.
3 hours I was strapped to the bed sobbing in pain. The midwife came in and said they had exhausted all the options and that I was going to have to have the baby surgically removed. I felt my body disappear like sand through your fingers. The sounds got quieter and I had no fight left.
They rolled me into the operating room and I asked that I be nude. I didn’t want anything in the way of touching my baby. Everyone kept saying how cold I would be but I didn’t care. I wanted my skin available for the baby. They started playing music and assembling the room like clockwork and I wish that I could remember what music it was. Something familiar but not comforting. As they prepped me I was very concerned that I could still feel my legs but no one seemed to care or believe me. I told the dr and he said he was going to do a test. He ran a wet cloth up my shin and asked if I could feel anything. I said yes it feels like you ran a wet cloth up my leg. Then he screamed “get her up get her up.” And then they said I had to have a spinal. They laid me back down. The surgeon laid his head down next to mine and said he knew this is not what I wanted but I was about to become a mother. They brought in my husband, my Doula and both midwives. Minutes later they cut our little girl out of my belly. We had asked for delayed cord cutting but once they opened me up they said that her cord was too short that they had to cut it to remove the baby from my belly. They asked Cassady if he wanted cut the cord. It was so thick he said it felt like cutting through a garden hose. Once he did they held up the baby and told Cas to say the sex. It’s a girl. I said that’s our Penny girl as I fell in and out of consciousness. I struggled to keep my eyes open. She was here and I was slipping away. I don’t remember hearing her cry.
I don’t remember getting brought back to the room but I do remember that they didn’t take me to recovery. They brought me back to the same room I had been in. They asked if I wanted anything and I said yes food. That’s when the nurse told me that I couldn’t eat for 24 hours. I couldn’t believe it. It had been nearly a week since I had had a proper meal and now they were denying me something to eat. I literally felt like things couldn’t be worse. Every dream I had had was the complete opposite.
When they finally transferred us to the new room it was freezing. I held Penny in my arms and just cried. Cried from exhaustion. Cried from pain, cried from hunger, cried for the things I didn’t get and for the things I had dreamed.
My heart was expecting to explode with love but instead broke. What I thought was going to be the happiest day of my life felt like the saddest. Raw. Hopeless instead of hopeful. My daughter was here and I just wanted to take it all back. It felt like a punishment for messing with nature.
Alone in the room with the catheter still in and my legs bound by some weird machine that was supposed to help with the swelling from the loads of drugs they gave me. I looked down at my feet in complete disgust. I didn’t even recognize my toes. They were so swollen it looked like you could squish them open like grapes.
My body hurt. I had this little person but I could barely move. I felt like I was hit by a train. Every inch of me hurt. But I held her and she nursed every hour. The nurses told me that I had to buzz them whenever she wanted to nurse. This felt strange but I was so tired and barely had enough strength to breath that I just did as I was told. She nursed. I buzzed. The nurse came in and pricked her little foot. She cried. The first time I heard her cry was on my breast because someone was hurting her. They did this every hour for the first 5 hours of her life.
Finally I said why?? Why are you doing this. I couldn’t take it and they said because of her birth weight. Blah blah blah. I said I can I say no?? And they said yes. So we declined any more pricks. Being an ivf mama I knew all too well how much those needles hurt.
Why were they doing this to her? We were supposed to be home in our cozy bed eating spaghetti. Not here.
Morning came and the Lactation consultant came in. I said I didn’t want any help. She left and then quickly came back. She said she heard our story and just wanted to say how sorry she was. Tears came. More tears. I couldn’t believe this was my reality.
The catheter finally came out. I wanted to shower. Dreaded taking a shower. I was afraid of standing. Who’s body was this. My feet hit the ground. Felt like ice. Why was it so cold. We all went to the bathroom together. I looked in the mirror and luckily my belly was still too big to see the stitches. But the iodine stained stomach wouldn’t stop glaring at me.
I turned on the water and stepped in. I don’t remember where the baby was. Was she sleeping?? In cassady’s arms? I don’t remember. Water hit my back but felt like needles. Hard not soft or comforting. I was too afraid to get my stomach wet. I got out as quickly as I had gotten in. I cried. More than anything else I remember crying.
We shivered through another night. Penny slept on my chest and the nurse came in and yelled at me. Said the baby had to be in the bassinet if I was sleeping. I said okay then I won’t sleep. I just laid there. Who was she to tell me what I could and couldn’t do with my baby. I said we need to leave we have to leave we have to get out of here.
The sun came up again and I was determined to go home. I said I was leaving weather they said I could or not.
The Lactation consultant came back again. She couldn’t believe how cold the room was. She asked us why we didn’t ask to move rooms. We were in such a fog it hadn’t even occurred to us that we could. Or that we should.
So we packed up and moved rooms. It was warm. We waited for the pediatrician to come so we could be discharged. I was determined to get out of this place.
We cut her tags off and signed a paper saying we were choosing to leave against medical recommendation. There was no reason to stay other than the fact that they had just cut me open. But my heart needed to go home. So we did.
She was 5 days old. 5 days. Almost the length that it took for her to get out of my body for me to realize I hadn’t even really looked at her. I hadn’t counted to see if she had all her toes. I hadn’t looked at her little fingers. I hadn’t look at her body. It took 5 days before I realized I should.
Cynthia is a mom, hairstylist, and wife among so many other things. You can find her instagramming @cynthiavanis
Today we venture into the third part of Emily's surrogacy blog. If you're new here, you can catchup here
In this post Emily will discuss her why. Why did she feel drawn to becoming a gestational surrogate and what it means for her family. She also talks briefly about the red tape of becoming a surrogate in specific states and the legal action she needed to take living in Virginia.
Questions and comments are always welcome. Please keep them positive and uplifting.
Originally written Aug 21, 2018
It's been almost a month since my last post sharing the news that we're starting this journey of surrogacy and so much has happened since then! The most relevant to the surrogacy is that our contract has been signed, sealed, and delivered. This means that all the stressful stuff that was in our control is now resolved and the rest is out of our hands.
I said in my last post that I would share my "why" about surrogacy and I will do that today! But first I want to explain a bit more about the reason we have a contract in the first place.
In the United States the laws around surrogacy vastly vary state-by-state, some places county-by-county, and can even be different for married same-sex couples vs for married heterosexual couples. (Meaning we still have so far to go in the fight for #marriageequality and #reproductiverights) That does not even touch on the laws internationally! I found a nice map of each state's laws on a surrogacy agency's website where they define states as "green light," "yellow light," "orange light," and "red light." The state in which the Intended Parents (IP's) and I live is Virginia, and is considered a "yellow light" state. This means "surrogacy is practiced, but there are potential legal hurdles."
During our contract process the IPs had their own attorney representing their needs and protecting them legally. Additionally, we had our own attorney representing our needs and protecting us legally. One of the things that exists in the Virginia law is that the IPs are not allowed to pay me to be their gestational surrogate, in the sense of a job. Rather, any money provided is meant as reimbursement for living expenses. So, a lot of what went into the contract were things considered reasonable reimbursement of expenses, including all pregnancy related expenses, maternity clothes, reimbursement for lost wages and childcare in the case of bedrest (which hopefully won't be necessary) and even a doula for us! There was also a lot of legalese to make sure that the IPs are walking out of the hospital with their baby and their names on the birth certificate when it's all done. And that's the goal! Happy baby and happy parents!
And also this experience gets to be a blessing for our own family and our happiness, too! That is also the goal and where our stories come together.
Many of you dear readers who know me personally have watched me over the years share joys and struggles of being a mother of my own (strong-willed, stubborn, challenging) dear children. The experience of becoming a mother has formed me. I am the clay in the potter's hands. It is part of my passion and purpose. It's sparked a career of which I'm immensely proud, dedicated, and honored to impact the lives of other families. Motherhood is and continues to be a defining moment in my story.
In the past year or so, I've considered how my role as wife, mother, business owner, and hopeful change-maker was in need of some new tools to tackle the challenges of this particular season in life. More specifically, I saw how my husband, Jack, and I continue to have a lot of the same road-blocks to co-creating the life we desire, while our attention is pulled in a thousand different directions. I felt that new tools could lead to prioritizing the values we share and hold dear.
Jack and I both agree that being parents and spending quality time with family is at the top of the list for this life. Recently, in my day planner I scribbled a quote by my dad, as he prepared for a lobster/ scuba diving trip to Key West, saying "don't let life get in the way of having a life." And that's absolutely what's happened for our family.
My family really values traveling and all it offers in new experiences, in history and culture, in being in and appreciating nature. However, due to the strain, of well, everything, those experiences have been few and far between. And when travel has happened, it's has many times been at the exclusion of Jack, as he has stayed back to work while the kids and I go visit family or friends.
Don't get me wrong, we've made some great memories together over the years! We are blessed and privileged with many opportunities to see family and friends in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and even our move to and back from, Colorado. We've done and seen a lot but our story is not over!
When I first seriously considered surrogacy, I knew that the financial reimbursement could be a tool for my family. A tool to eliminate a decent portion of my student loans that continue to haunt me a decade and a half post-college. I'm grateful for my years in Tallahassee; especially for the people and all the learning done there. I'm also grateful to Jack for working hard with me to pay off that debt. But it's a living expense that gets in the way of having a life. Maybe my dad was paraphrasing Dolly Parton when she said "Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life."
While I firmly believe that life is a journey, not just a destination, I find this quote from Anthony Bourdain is an excellent analogy. Try replacing the word "Travel" with "Marriage" or "Motherhood" or "Life."
"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's ok. The journey changes you- it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you... Hopefully, you leave something good behind."
Great Falls, Virginia -2015 It was 1000 degrees and we were hot, grumpy, and together
Earlier this week I introduced you to Emily Smith. Emily is the owner of Doulas of Capitol Hill, and Doulas of PG County, and she recently has begun the process to become a gestational surrogate.
In her last post, which can be read here, we came in the middle of her journey where Emily had just found out that her first transfer was unsuccessful (I feel weird using that word, as it seems so negative. I'll try to brainstorm a more positive language that can be used. Suggestions welcome)
Throughout the rest of the month Emily will share her flashbacks from the very beginning of her journey and we will get to know the process of becoming a surrogate a little bit better.
As always please try to remember that these are very personal stories and comments and support are always welcome but lets keep them positive.
Originally written on July 26, 2018
You guys, I have big, huge news:
I'm going to get pregnant and have another baby! But that's not the important part. The most important news is this baby won't be my own child; I'm planning to be a gestational surrogate!
So, what exactly does that mean? It means I found an amazing family who really, truly deserves to have and hold a baby, but they cannot do this without help. So, essentially this is the most intense babysitting job ever. For 9 months.
Ok, it's more complicated than that, as you can imagine. But here are the basics:
First, I met this fantastic couple, who for now I'll call H. and J. H is the "Intended Mother" (IM) and J is the "Intended Father" (IF). You'll see me use these terms throughout the blog so it's good to know them now. So, I met this couple back in May in a Facebook group for matching Intended Parents with Surrogates. This is called an independent match. We are not using a surrogacy agency.
We Skyped and messaged frequently and found we had some fun personal connections in common. Also necessary was that we agreed on the really important things relating to surrogacy like how many babies to have, compensation, and insurance. I made that sound simple but really, this process was intensive and took weeks for the dust to settle. All the while we continued to get to know each other personally, too.
In mid-June H and J came to our house to meet our family. And again, we had a really enjoyable time together, and shared some new personal connections. Let me tell you, this absolutely felt like dating at this point. What do we wear? Is our house clean enough? Will our kids behave or will we need to locked them in a cage? They did and we didn't ;-) But after H and J left our house, it was clear we were ready to take things to the next level and have a baby!
I should stop now and explain that the future little one will be 100% H and J's baby, both genetically and legally. Their bun, my oven. We'll be doing what is called a Single Embryo Transfer and I will have the honor of helping grow this little one to be a healthy and strong baby born 9 months later to be delivered into the arms of H and J.
I've heard people ask other gestational surrogates "won't you have a hard time giving that baby up?" And the answer is NOPE! Not for a minute. The whole point IS to give the baby to it's parents! It's a little like my role as a doula. I get to help parents welcome their baby to the world and then I get to go home and get a full night sleep. Ahh, sleeeeeep. Different from my role as a doula, I'll have go through morning sickness and pushing a baby out, rather than coaching through it.
Speaking of being a doula, one past doula client of mine gave me a t-shirt that said "Doulas help people out." I think I might have a maternity shirt made with the same, but replacing the word doula with "Surrogates."
Anyway, there is so much to share and other parts that I'm sure people will have questions about. But for now this is where we are:
I passed my uterus interview! This was a vaginal ultrasound held at the fertility clinic to peek at my uterus and make sure it all looked healthy. They also ran blood work and I brought along my records from my past 3 pregnancies. The Reproductive Endocrinologist said I had a "perfect uterus!" This was the first time I've ever received this compliment. lol. Check out the I Heart Guts (tm) pic I made to celebrate.
Contract back from the lawyer! Now we just have a (hopefully) small amount of ping pong between H and J's lawyer and my lawyer to make sure everything is mutually agreed upon.
Then what? Well, we expect as soon as we finish all the contract stuff that I'll start medicine to prepare my uterus for the embryo transfer. And in a perfect world the Transfer will happen in early to mid- September!
But for now (and basically this whole process) we just take things one step at a time. I told the IM that I often tell my kids "patience is waiting with a good attitude." Which is often easier said than done because I know they are SOOOOO ready to be holding their baby like, now. And I don't blame them. I would be too if I were in their shoes!
In the next blog post I'll talk about my WHY of surrogacy (and what about my own husband and kids and how they fit into this story.) Maybe down the road, I'll be able to share more about H and J and their inspiring WHY, too. But that will only happen if/when they give permission (which may be never, and I'll respect their right to make that call). So, for now you'll all be able to read about the surrogacy journey from this side of the story. And hopefully, it will INSPIRE JOY in your life, too!
Colorado Springs 2013 - pregnant with my youngest son
A collection of posts from different humans all over the world, sharing their stories about the struggles they have faced in their individual journeys to motherhood.