This blog post was written by both of us (Shonnie and Bruce). Shonnie’s words come from the diary she’s keeping for Gracelyn and are italicized and indented.
I awoke around 12:30 a.m. on Monday, September 6 with my first notable contractions. I was delighted to know that we were officially beginning your birth journey. For the next few hours I lay next to your Daddy as the contractions came and went. Around four o’clock (a.m.), however, I went into the nursery . . . Our two boy kitties—Desmond and Bandit—kept vigil with us, sleeping on the floor near the ottoman on which my legs rested.
When I woke later on, Daddy got up too and as he has all throughout this pregnancy, did everything he could to care for and comfort me. He made me creamy wheat cereal which would turn out to be the last solid food I would have.
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We decided to call Mayari (our birth doula) and say we were ready for her support, especially since contractions were about a minute long and five-or-so minutes apart. She arrived around 3:00 p.m. and was a great comfort. . . . Mayari and Bruce read me affirmations, walked with me, massaged me and did lots of other things to help you and me progress in this journey.
[ . . . ]
Around 8:00 p.m. or so, I decided I wanted to go to Mission, the hospital where you would be born. Daddy called Dr. Lisa (our physician), who talked with Mayari, and we decided to meet up around 9:00 p.m.
Shonnie’s labor progressed slowly—a long and arduous process. In addition, she was nauseous and couldn’t keep anything solid down, which lowered her energy level. According to this powerful, athletic woman who’s trained for and successfully completed several marathons and extremely challenging trail races, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done . . . and the most rewarding.”
At Mission Hospital, Dr. Lisa continued checking Shonnie’s progress throughout the night. And while dilation and effacement were gradually increasing, getting to 10 cm. dilation and 100 percent effacement for birth to take place was still a somewhat distant goal.
Mayari filled the tub as your Daddy supported me to labor in bed. The water felt wonderful and I labored there for a couple of hours. I was able to get into different positions, including belly down, and labored with lots of vocalizing and visualizing . . . The nurses—first Pamela, then Sheila—were incredibly supportive too, providing coaching and encouragement right alongside your Daddy and Mayari.
I continued to have nausea and vomiting and by now it had been about 24 hours since I’d kept down any solid food. Exiting the tub, I was supported over to the bed where I collapsed shaking and shivering through my whole body. . . . I felt exhausted. When Dr. Lisa checked me again, I was closer, yet not making progress to match my efforts. At this point I felt truly overwhelmed. My body and spirit were working as hard as they knew how, yet I was afraid I couldn’t physically endure more labor with the nausea and lack of food.
It was really difficult for me as Shonnie’s contractions became more frequent and challenging to deal with, especially when she began to run out of energy. At this point I found myself silently but fervently praying to any deity that might listen—God, Allah, Yahweh, the Universe, Life, the Big Kahuna, whoever—“Please lighten Shonnie’s load and give some of it to me.” But, alas . . .
I wept unconsolably and told Dr. Lisa that I was afraid that the only way you (Gracelyn) could be born was by Caesarean. . . . Dr. Lisa comforted me and reminded us of some other tools we could use—an epidural to numb me from the waist down and allow me to get some much needed rest and pitocin to strengthen my contractions and get my cervix to fully open.
Dr. Lisa also told me how hard this process was for your Daddy, who wanted to do whatever was possible to ease my labor. Your Daddy and I held each other crying—in part for sadness in needing to use these drugs, in part for our love and unconditional support for each other, and in part for wanting to make the best decision for the three of us.
Though we’d planned to forego the assistance of drugs, the epidural allowed Shonnie to rest and gain the strength she’d need for the pushing stage. It’s clear to us that this was the proper course of action.
Progress began to take place more rapidly after the epidural and the pitocin were administered. In addition, Mayari and Sheila moved Shonnie into a position in the bed that encouraged our baby to move from a posterior position to an anterior position and, thus for baby to move more easily down the birth canal.
Finally all the pieces had come together, and I was almost completely dilated and fully effaced. As Dr. Lisa, Mayari, Sheila and your Daddy gathered around my hospital bed, Amazing Grace (by Judy Collins) played from our computer, and we all began to sing. It was a sacred time as we got ready to welcome you. The time was very near!
The birth itself was truly a sacred moment. Life bursting from the womb. And the expression on Shonnie’s face when we immediately placed Gracelyn on her belly . . . words can’t really express Shonnie’s passionate joy and delight. I realized and announced, “It’s a girl!” And once the umbilical cord had stopped pulsing, I cut it, allowing Shonnie to pull Gracelyn closer and embrace her fully.
Dr. Lisa encouraged me to give the pushes my full effort, and soon your head was outside my body. I reached down and felt you for the very first time. I was elated and amazed! With one more contraction, you popped out, and your Daddy and Dr. Lisa caught your strong, pink body and placed you up on my belly. You cried lustily and I too wept with wild joy, jubilation and thankfulness that you had made your way into our lives.
I know I’m not the first person to make this observation, but if it were up to us guys, I’m pretty sure our species would have reached extinction thousands of years ago. Being with Shonnie as she lovingly, graciously and purposefully carried our child was a revelation in itself. I don’t think I’d have had the willingness or fortitude to do that. But more than that, the manner in which she courageously persevered during labor and birth . . . I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t have displayed her heart and tenacity. I stand in awe just remembering her gutsiness and her intentionality in bringing our child into the world. I am blessed and honored to be her partner in life and in raising our baby girl.
Our care team
We want to express our profound gratitude for our care team during labor and the birthing process—Dr. Lisa Lichtig, Mayari Waymouth, our birth doula, and the Mission nurses, especially Sheila. We’ll be forever grateful for their generosity of spirit and loving support.
Dr. Lisa Lichtig, our family physician who is midwife trained, was available for consultation by phone from the moment Shonnie’s labor began. Then Dr. Lisa arrived at Mission Hospital shortly after we did and remained there for approximately the next 30 hours, until the birth of Gracelyn and our transfer to the Mother-Baby Unit. She, of course, was on board with our desire for a natural childbirth, and she was there to provide wise and compassionate support when medical alternatives were necessary for the labor to progress and to give Shonnie some relief. I have never witnessed such a combination of deep caring, gentle humor and medical skill in all my days (and that’s quite a few days).
Mayari Waymouth, our birth doula, was also available for consultation by phone from the time labor began. Mayari joined us at our home mid-afternoon, accompanied us to the hospital that evening and was with us every moment until Gracelyn was born with the exception of a couple of visits to the cafeteria to get us and herself some food. A birth doula is a person trained and experienced in childbirth who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth, and it was obvious that this work is Mayari’s calling. She was loving, intentional, focused and present in the moment. She was ready and willing to perform any task we asked of her. And at the same time she was lighthearted and a delight to be with. We couldn’t have asked for more from this powerful young woman.
With a few minor exceptions, our experience of the nurses and other care providers at Mission Hospital was beyond reproach. They had gotten a copy of our birth preferences in which we indicated that we wanted a natural, sacred experience, and they were on board with our desires in this regard. Of special note was Sheila, our nurse in the Labor and Delivery Unit. Sheila knew that we attended Jubilee as she had previously, and her powerful spirit, calm demeanor and knowledgeable support were essential during the most intense part of Shonnie’s labor and during Gracelyn’s birth. Sheila even stayed with us after her shift had ended to make sure all post-birth details were handled impeccably. Service above and beyond the call of duty.
Unyielding support of friends and relatives
We’ve said this before, and we’ll likely say it again numerous times: It really does take a village to raise a child. And we are so fortunate to have such generous relatives and friends who have been there for us in ways too numerous to name and who were holding us in their consciousness and their hearts during Shonnie’s labor and the birth process. The profuse outpouring of love, acknowledgement and celebration was a joy to behold, and let us know that our community was definitely delighted by the arrival of our little girl.
Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey
We’d talked about Grace as a possible name for our child in the final weeks of pregnancy. And we discussed Lavender as a middle name if she was a girl, with Mulkey as the last name (We also thought that Mulkey might be a boy’s middle name with Lavender as his last name.). The day after Shonnie had given birth, Dr. Lisa came by to check Momma and Baby out and said that the name Grace had come to her on the drive home after the delivery. Then early the next morning gazing at our nursing child, a name popped into Shonnie’s head: “Oh, you’re Gracelyn!” And that was that.
Needless to say, we are totally enthralled by Gracelyn. She is a good-natured, loving, lovable child who readily let’s us know when she wants something (usually breast milk, a diaper change, more/less stimulation or a blankie). She’s taken to nursing with reckless abandon. And since she’s sleeping with us, at night all Shonnie has to do is align her breast with Gracelyn’s mouth, and let the feeding begin. Well, it’s not quite as easy as that, but Shonnie really is enjoying being with Gracelyn in this intimate and time-honored way.
Since we’re cocooning and getting accustomed to our new way of life, you may not see much of us or hear from us that frequently for a while. Just be assured that we feel your presence and look forward to introducing you to our little girl when the time is right.