May 2011 be blessed

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Mayari Waymouth, our birth doula, tells her story of Gracelyn’s birth

Remembering Shonnie, Bruce and Gracelyn’s birth, I am happy and grateful that I was fortunate enough to witness and provide assistance to you.  This memory is a sacred one for me, and I am glad to share it.


Mayari supporting Shonnie during labor


Shonnie was in contact with me during the day on September 6th.  She was experiencing contractions that started out 20 minutes apart and got closer throughout the day.  By around 3 pm, she was ready for my support, so I packed my bags, set the kids up with a babysitter, and headed over to her house.  On the way, I stopped for a sandwich.  The cashier at KFC saw my birth doula car sticker and asked me if I was a doula.  He had had a doula at the birth of his child, and sent me off with happy wishes for a good birth.  I was amused and delighted by the synchronicity of the Universe, and glad to be heading to a birth that the Universe was supporting with love and community.

When I arrived at their house, Bruce directed me upstairs, to the bathroom where Shonnie was laboring in the tub.  Her face had the look of a woman who is beginning to experience the reality of labor.  I sat with her as she breathed through her contractions, and offered a honey stick to help her stay nourished despite the nausea she was experiencing.  Soon after that, Shonnie emerged from the tub and we labored for a while in her bedroom.  Her contractions were regular, 4 minutes apart, and almost a minute long.  She was experiencing them as intensity in her lower abdomen.  I was fairly sure we were still in early labor, but I had no idea how early.  Shonnie and I chatted for a while, and talked about the use of the word “relax” in labor.  Shonnie was worried that the word might encourage her uterus to relax, instead of working, and I encouraged her to use it, since if the rest of her body relaxed, her uterus would be able to do its work more effectively.

Shonnie, Bruce and I went on a walk around their townhouse complex.  The movement brought on more contractions that were more intense, which was a theme that lasted throughout this labor.  Shonnie leaned on Bruce during contractions, and I rubbed her back.  After a while, we settled back in the house, with Shonnie laboring behind a chair in the living room.  I was reminded that many women choose a small, safe place to labor in, and I was glad that Shonnie was following her intuition in finding the places and positions that served her the best.

After about three hours of this kind of laboring, I mentioned that we could probably head to the hospital whenever Shonnie was ready.  She said she had been having some of the same thoughts, and Bruce began making the final preparations for leaving.  We spoke with Dr. Lisa, and she and I chatted about Shonnie’s labor and how it was progressing.  From all outside indications, this labor was proceeding apace, but I remember wondering if we should spend some more time at home or not. But Shonnie and Bruce were ready to go, and that for me was confirmation that it was the right time. Continue reading “Mayari Waymouth, our birth doula, tells her story of Gracelyn’s birth”

The birth of Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey

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.

Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey

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.

[ . . . ]

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 supporting Shonnie during labor

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.

Bruce & Dr. Lisa preparing to catch baby

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!

Shonnie & Gracelyn just after birth

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

Dr. Lisa and Mayari

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

Welcome to the world, Gracelyn!

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.

Welcome Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey

Shonnie & Gracelyn at 15 hours newThe three of us got home from Mission Hospital mid-day Thursday exceedingly happy and very tired. Labor began on Labor Day and ended with the birth of Gracelyn Lavender Mulkey on Tuesday, September 7 at 7:37 p.m. Eastern. Our sweet baby girl weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces, was 19.25 inches long, and was exuberant from her very first breath. We will be writing more in the time to come, yet for right now, we’re doing little else than loving this most beloved child with all we’ve got.

Thank you for the continuous flow of love and support that you have showered on us. It was a healing balm to us in the tough parts of labor to know we were all encircled with compassion and care.

We’re in the home stretch now!

Well, tomorrow (Sunday, September 5) is our due date, and we’re prepared. The nursery is ready, our home is well-organized and clean, the refrigerator is stocked with easy-to-prepare foods, our bags for the hospital are packed and, yes, the email to relatives and a few other folks is back in the “Drafts” folder ready to be sent . . . for real this time.

In anticipation of the big day we’ve read the books, taken a childbirth class, participated in a breast feeding class, toured the hospital, conferred with our doctors and doula regularly, chosen our birth preferences (as natural as possible), prepared the feline family members, been blessed by Rev. Howard Hanger and our fellow Jubilants and received and responded to good wishes from friends and relatives throughout the U.S. and beyond.

So, now we wait. As some of you may know, I am not a particularly patient man. I like to make things happen. And I’m pretty good at it. This is not one of those times, however. Baby arrives when he or she is ready by releasing a hormone that starts labor and the birth process.

FYI, when labor begins for Shonnie, we’ll stay at home for a while, and Mayari, our doula, will join us here for support. Once labor becomes more pronounced, we’ll all head for Mission Hospital, which is very momma/baby/dad friendly. One our physicians (either Dr. Lisa or Dr. Susan) will join us there, and a Mission nurse (who’s on board with our birth preferences) will also become part of our team.

I trust that Shonnie instinctively knows what to do as does Baby. My job and our team’s will be to be there for Shonnie—physically, emotionally and spiritually—for this sacred event while having faith in the process.

Once Baby is born, he/she and Shonnie will be inseparable, skin-to-skin, and nursing will commence soon thereafter. After a short stay at the hospital, we’ll head for home where Shonnie will rest for several days before attempting to do anything other than just be with Baby. We’ll do our best to get word out to friends and family about the birth, but communication may be inconsistent during this time.

For the first month, we plan for just the three of us to spend time together, getting to know one another, bonding, enjoying one another, deciding on a name (first, middle and last). So you may not be seeing much of us until sometime in October.

It’s already apparent that Shonnie is going to be a marvelous mom. In fact, the joyful, conscious, loving, devoted manner in which she’s carried our child is a testament to the way she’ll mother Baby after he/she arrives. And until then, we relax, share dinner and movie (perhaps the last opportunity for the two of us to go out for a while) and anticipate our little bundle of joy’s arrival during the coming days.

Help us have our envisioned birth

As we draw within a week of Baby Lavender-Mulkey’s due date, I get even more curious and excited about what the future holds. Curious best describes how I feel about labor and birth since there truly is no road map or outline of what I’ll feel and when I’ll feel it. I don’t have much fear — because I don’t have many “bad birth stories” to forget, because the entire pregnancy has been wonderfully easy, and because I am surrounded by such tremendous love and support. In fact, today at Jubilee, our minister of ritual, Howard Hanger, led all Jubilants in an evoking and lovely blessing for the three of us…which was simply one more affirmation of how fortunate and blessed we already are.

As we’ve both written before, however, we know that Baby’s birth is a co-creation that involves more than merely a mother, father, and child. Bringing a life into the world, and nurturing this life to be who he/she was made to be takes the hearts and hands of many good souls. So we wanted to share with you our vision for Baby’s birthday as well as some of what we are, and will be affirming throughout the birth process to keep us connected to the source of all life and one of the most vital partners in this creative endeavor (most are written from Shonnie’s perspective).

Affirmations about Shonnie

  • I am strong.
  • I am confident in my body, intuition, and innate wisdom.
  • I am relaxed.
  • I am able and willing to move through fear to a positive place.
  • I trust myself completely.

Affirmations about Baby

  • Our Baby is healthy and strong.
  • We trust our Baby completely.
  • Baby knows what he/she wants and needs.
  • Baby is excited to meet us.
  • Baby and Shonnie work together easily.

Affirmations about our birth team

  • I trust Bruce completely.
  • I have wonderful support.
  • We’re a great team.
  • We all work together.
  • We have an abundance of love and support surrounding us.
  • I trust our entire care team completely.

Affirmations about the process

  • I trust this process.
  • Our birth is a sacred, connecting, and joyful experience.
  • Everything happening is in the best and highest good.
  • Life is unfolding exactly as it’s meant to.
  • We embrace the excitement and joy of this experience.

Thank you each for helping us hold these visions and affirm what we believe to be true about ourselves, our child, life, and the sacredness of this journey we’re on. Your love, support, encouragement, and joy are palpable to us and a great blessing, especially in these final weeks of pregnancy and the upcoming birth.

The losses during pregnancy

Last week I became aware that I was facing some loss and grief in this time of anticipation. As I was walking back to the gym locker room after my swim with Baby one morning, I was saying to him/her that we didn’t have too many swims like this left (Baby is due to arrive sometime in the next 5 weeks for certain). While I’m definitely excited about bringing Baby to the pool to float on his/her own, I will miss hopping into the pool with my big belly — Baby safely inside — and swimming laps with my little one.

our kitty, AttabiComing right on the heels of this realization that I was losing somethings, our second-oldest kitty (age 15), Attabi, got very ill (from long-standing kidney disease). Though we hoped his weekend stay with the vet had given him a few more weeks or months of life in this form, that was not to be. Tuesday evening, after lying snuggled between Bruce and me on our bed being petted and loved, we took him to the vet and held him as the vet gave him the shot to stop his heart. We definitely were not ready for this change in our lives, yet Attabi came to both of us in our dreams that same night and showed us he was fine — vital, happy, and still with us in spirit. Additionally, Bruce had the inkling that Attabi’s spirit wanted us to be able to focus our care-taking energy on the new life coming into our family rather than on the life of his physical self which would have demanded much more time to keep him alive.

So I’m touched by the profound reminders that change — even the kind that we relish and fervently anticipate — is accompanied by loss — some of which may fill us with grief. Of course, I knew this was true long before last week, yet realizing it again has helped me to savor these present moments all the more, knowing that they are to be replaced before too long. I know I’m deeply grateful that I took off work on Tuesday so that I could spend Attabi’s final day with him. Thank you for 15 wonderful years, little Lobster!

I hope this lesson about Life’s ephemeral nature will be one I remember frequently as a parent (If I forget, will you remind me?).

“I need neither future nor past, but to learn to take today not too fast.”

~Jeb Dickerson