Labor with a Guru, a Doula, and an OB: The Birth of Hanley Dev

Labor with a Guru, a Doula, and an OB: The Birth of Hanley Dev

We are beyond honored to be a part of Lauren’s pregnancy journey, birth story, and recovery after the birth of Hanley Dev. Lauren is a magical woman whom I admire immensely. She supports women on their journey through wellness and self-discovery by guiding them and their families through proper nutrition, wellness, baby nutrition, yoga and really super yummy recipes. You can find Lauren at LaurenGrogan.yoga for the support you need.

This is one of those birth stories that makes me smile, cry a little, and laugh a lot!

Hanley’s Birth Story
I had an excellent pregnancy.  I had a rough start between weeks 7 – 15 with nausea but after that passed it was smooth sailing. I enjoyed capturing my belly growing and absolutely loved feeling the baby kick inside me. I had little to no food cravings and when I did they were always for pretty healthy foods. I slept better than I ever have before and rarely was tired. If anything, I had loads of energy throughout my pregnancy. Luckily, I was able to do yoga, walk and do light cardio right up until I was due.

Photo by Griffin Lotz
Color corrected, but not retouched proof. For web only with permission.

I read book after book about pregnancy and birth. I took birthing classes, breastfeeding classes and prenatal yoga classes all to prep me. Lammer and I took HypnoBirthing® Class together and I practiced it each and every day to prepare my mind and body for birth. I continually practiced specific sadhanas throughout my pregnancy to invoke strength from the Divine Mother (specifically the 32 names of Durga). I created very specific affirmations to help keep my mind in a healthy and happy place. I drafted a (drug-free) birth plan that I specifically called my birth preference because I knew that saying plan was not realistic. I made it a point to change my yoga practice to certain movements/breathing exercises that would be most helpful during labor. I had my hospital bag ready to go a few weeks before my due date with at least 24 hours worth of a birthing playlist to have playing while giving birth. I worked closely with my doula, Nicole throughout my pregnancy to prep for the big day. After such a healthy and happy pregnancy, I was confident that I would have a quick, natural birth.

My due date came and went. I woke up the day I was due and had a beautiful Qi Gong practice in my backyard. I was thrilled to still have my baby in my belly and welcomed him staying in longer. It never occurred to me that he would be growing even bigger in there! Lammer teased and told me to stop eating well, doing yoga and walking so much…that the baby didn’t want to come out of such a great place! On a side note, I always felt like it was a boy in there even though we didn’t know.

I went to my doctor 2 days after my due date, on a Monday, only for him to say that I was 1cm dilated and that I’d probably go over the weekend. I thought I had plenty of time! Unfortunately, that night while Lammer was away at work, I had 3 terribly frightening nightmares that woke me up in a panic. The third one was so intense that I actually woke up screaming. Not like me, and certainly not like me to miss out on sleep!  

The next morning (Tuesday) I woke up with some spotting, which I attributed to being examined the day before. As the day progressed I hobbled around feeling like I was getting my period. It was strange, and the cramps just kept getting worse. As the evening came, Lammer asked me if I wanted him to stay home from work for the night. I brushed his question off and assured him that I would be fine. I will always be very happy that he used his best judgment and stayed home!

The cramps continued to get worse and worse. It felt like the most painful period I had ever had (and I have a history of god-awful painful periods). I drank water and calmly used my hypnobirthing throughout each wave of cramps and went to the bathroom after every few…and this went on ALL NIGHT LONG. Luckily, Lammer got a good night’s rest throughout it (and was snoring next to me!). As the sun started coming up, I realized that I had literally been up ALL night trying to manage the cramps with my positive thoughts and HypnoBirthing®. I was very tired, and still confused as to what was going on. I woke Lammer up and explained (complained) to him about my night. He began timing my contractions very diligently. At about 6am, while going to the bathroom again, I noticed I lost my mucus plug. I yelled out to Lammer and he called Nicole right away. As I stood up, water trickled down my leg…my water broke. Lammer called my doctor after he got off the phone with Nicole. Nicole and the doctor’s office both said for me to eat something, take a shower and make my way to the hospital when I was ready. Lammer had the shower running and ready to go but by this time the contractions were very intense. I was on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor begging him not to put me in the shower, to just take me to the hospital. So we got our things and left for Monmouth Medical Center.

By the time we got there I was having a hard time walking. I grabbed the wall when I walked in and a nurse coming in for her shift saw me and quickly got me a wheelchair. During admittance I started crying…I was SO scared of the unknown. I had NO idea what to expect but all I knew was that things were getting more and more intense as they progressed. One of my sweet doctors, Dr. Giovine, came in to see me. Before he examined me he saw my tears and came right up to console me. He’s one of the most compassionate doctors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I was 3-4cm dilated. Not much for the way I was feeling!  I tried to calm down and eat a little something since I wanted to be fueled for the work ahead.  

I was admitted to my own birthing room where the contractions kept coming. Lammer and I were left alone for me to labor. I had this idea of how I wanted my laboring to go; bouncing on a birth ball, breathing through specific yoga poses to assist in moving baby down, walking through the halls, and chanting along with my birth playlist as I kept my calm through each contraction. All I knew was that the last place I wanted to be was anywhere near the hospital bed. Uh…didn’t work out that way!  No matter WHAT I did, I could NOT get comfortable. The ball was an awful idea – it felt terrible. And attempting to do yoga…HA!  All I wanted was to lay down in bed – I was SO exhausted. I had a terrible night’s sleep on Monday from the nightmares, then absolutely none the night before because of pre-labor. I was running on empty.

Nicole arrived around noon and I was on all fours on the bed, with a pillow under my head, writhing in pain whenever a contraction would come. She and Lammer gently insisted that I get up and walk the halls. I did, reluctantly, breaking down every few steps to ride out my contraction. It was humiliating, scary, and completely uncomfortable. We got back to the room and I asked Lammer and Nicole if it was ok if I just laid down. I did, with hopes to get a little rest. I don’t think so! This went on and on, followed by another stroll down the hall, until I finally looked at Nicole and said, “What are my options?”  I was so intent on using my hypnobirthing to birth my baby that getting an epidural where I’d be stuck on the bed was not something that I was ok with. Especially the fact that it came with catheter!  I continued to labor. At this point, while on all fours with a pillow under my head (seemed to be only somewhat comfortable position at the time), I was actually falling asleep in between contractions. That’s how tired I was. I finally realized that this could go on for hours or even for another day. How was I ever able to continue this being so tired? There was no way. I let Lammer, Nicole and the nurses know that I needed an epidural.

At about 2pm the epidural was actually pretty heavenly considering it took all feeling and contractions away. The catheter, beyond any discomfort than I had ever imagined. Since an epidural was no where in my birth “plan” I knew almost nothing about it…and the fact that it actually slows the process of labor down! So we waited, and waited, and waited for me to become more dilated. Dr. Soussan would come in every 4 hours or so to check my cervix and it was opening at a snail’s pace. I was able to rest, which was nice. However it was still pretty scary considering I had no idea what was to come, or when.

Throughout the day I was snacking on cantaloupe, watermelon and drinking coconut water. Bad idea! Later that evening I felt some pressure down below (I had no feeling or control down there from the epidural) followed by some heat. I figured it was just some gas. It was not! The nurse came to clean me up before Dr. Soussan could do another exam of my cervix. As she was taking her gloves off and walking out the door…I went again. She cleaned me up and left. A few minutes later I called her back because I had gone again. As she was taking her gloves off and walking out the door…I went again.  This continued to go on…for the rest of the night. It started off as completely embarrassing to overwhelmingly hilarious!  I crapped the bed a total of about 20-24 times throughout the rest of the night. A nurse had to come clean me about 18 times! Finally she asked what I had eaten and I told her…she yelled, “No wonder, stop eating that!” I should have known better but wasn’t thinking. Nicole, Lammer and I all got a good laugh out of it. One of the nurses was extremely patient and sweet about it which made it much more comfortable.

I texted Subhadra at some point in the evening, showing her a picture of Swami Rama’s photograph that I had framed in my room at the bottom of my bed to keep my focus. A few candles were lit around the room. She reminded me of my breath and said to keep chanting silently “Om Hreem Namah Shivaya” in order to allow that energy to guide myself and the baby for what’s best. I continued to recite this mantra all night with this intention.

The night went on and Lammer and I both slept. Nicole was downstairs resting and getting work done. At 2am Thursday morning I remember waking up to a nurse checking my cervix. “You’re 10cm dilated, get ready to have your baby!” The lights went on and all of a sudden more nurses were in the room. It was time to push. Nicole came up. They propped my legs up on these huge pieces that came up from the bed. It was a terribly uncomfortable position to be in. Nicole was at my left side while Lammer was at my right. There were a nurse or two at the foot of the bed helping as well. We all were watching the computer to see when my contractions were coming. When they’d come it felt like I had to go to the bathroom (#2) so they all knew that was my cue to push! I pushed and I pushed…all morning long. I remember looking up at Nicole’s face which was blank, tired and staring off at the machine. I looked around at everyone else’s face which had exactly the same look. Nothing was happening even with all of this pushing. I was starting to get tired again. They turned me on my side to see if that helped at all and I began crying through the pushing feeling defeated once again (like I felt earlier in labor). They started a small dose of pitocin drip to help move things along. Definitely not on my birth plan. It barely helped. Dr. Soussan came in and really started to encourage the process. This is when things got intense.

I had an Asian nurse, Helen, holding my left leg/foot, a shy, heavy African American woman holding my other (can’t recall her name). Nicole was on my right, next to my head, Lammer was off to the right side by my feet. Dr. Soussan was in between my legs while another outspoken Latin nurse (also can’t recall her name) was buzzing around the left side. The lights were so bright and Dr. Soussan had a mask and gloves on as he was touching and “stretching” me down there. It was very hard for me to relax with everyone staring at my most intimate and sacred place. They asked if I would like to “see” what was going on down there with the reflection mirror above and I screamed, “NO!” I had no idea how much there was to think about when pushing. It wasn’t just bearing down. I had to soften my face, round my back, bear down as if I was taking a bowel movement all while keeping my bum relaxed. There was a lot of time in between each of my contractions, hence the reason I pushed for so long. It finally got to the point where I was making progress as I was getting the hang of pushing. Every person in the room was helping me throughout each push. They each had something helpful to say that was helping me to push more efficiently as time went on.

Dr. Soussan suggested the vacuum to help get the head out of my pubic bone where it was stuck (on the left side). Another thing I refused on my birth plan. The first try didn’t take. The second time kind of pulled the head out a bit out from under my pubic bone. It was a terrible feeling as it was a quick yank down in the area. I kept expecting it to help birth my baby. Of course not. I remember Nicole yelling to Dr. Soussan asking if it was ok to hit me with another dose of the epidural because of how intense the pain was. He said yes and the she quickly pressed the button a few times. I begged for him to do the vacuum one more time and he stopped, lifted both of his bloody hands in the air and said, “No. If I do the vacuum one more time and it doesn’t take, it’s hospital policy that I have to roll you to the OR for a C-section.” That was all I had to hear. Hell no. I did not spend all that time in prelabor, then all day/night in labor, then the past 4 hours pushing just to get a C-section. I looked at everyone and said, “Let’s do this. I need each one of you to keep on talking to me because every one of your voices are saying something that I need to hear.”

The next 15 minutes was nothing but FOCUS. I realized how helpful all of the years of practicing meditation was for me at this time. During every contraction I was able to focus on each one of the voices that were yelling at me (in an encouraging way!), softening my face, rounding my back, bearing down all while keeping my bum relaxed, Lammer’s voice, Swami Rama’s calm/sweet face in my mind, the mantra “Durgati-shamani”, and thinking “My body is resilient.”  I literally had gathered every bit of strength I had within me, and felt the encouragement of every person in the room helping me, and the strength of the Divine Mother (that mantra translates to “she who is tranquil in painful circumstances”). The final few pushes I felt the “ring of fire” – what women who have given birth vaginally call it. It felt like my body was splitting in half. The pain was unreal. The most sensitive part of my body was being violently torn. With another push Hanley came out and Dr. Soussan threw his writhing, wet, crying body onto my chest. I squealed because it felt like a little alien on my chest out of nowhere!  But, PHEW, it was over.

They took Hanley to the side to check him out and Lammer was with him throughout the process. I was catching my breath, just relieved it was over. Dr. Soussan gently pulled my placenta out and saved it for Nicole to dehydrate and encapsulate. He continued to stitch me up since I had a 2nd degree tear. They handed the baby to Lammer to hold first. Hanley had a big frown on his face as Lammer held him and counted all of his fingers and toes. Lammer realized how troubled his breathing was and got the nurse’s attention. He was grunting, having trouble breathing. Since he was in the birth canal for so long while I was pushing those 4 hours he breathed in amniotic fluid into his lungs and it needed to be removed immediately. They let me hold him for a few minutes for some pictures then whisked him off to the NICU. I remember turning to Nicole and saying how I couldn’t believe how far beyond my birth “plan” I went because not only did I not have a drug-free birth but I wasn’t able to have skin to skin with my son and breastfeed right after birth. Instead his first food would be a sugar drip and antibiotics in a cold little bed away from me. If that wasn’t the biggest lesson of my life about “planning!”

It took some time for the adrenaline to wear off, and the pitocin. I was shaky and shivering. Soon, feeling started coming back to my legs as the epidural wore off. A few hours later nurses helped me walk to the bathroom. They sat me down on the toilet and I cried to them how I didn’t want to sit, it felt like it was just going to tear my incision back open! I stood up to pee for the first 3 days at least because of this. Not to mention my gnarly hemorrhoids! 4 hours of pushing, damn you!

We were moved to the postpartum ward which was just lovely. Monmouth Medical was a dream. I was so grateful to be there surrounded by so many amazing nurses. They were all so nurturing and took such great care of me. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life. I was able to rest. Every few hours Lammer would wheel me down to the NICU to see Hanley. He was such a sweetheart in his little bed and it broke our hearts to see him hooked up to so many tubes and wires. But looking around at the other babies who were tiny and in incubators, he was one of the largest, healthiest babies there. For that, we were grateful.

The nurses had me start pumping within about 2 hours after giving birth. Nothing was coming out and I was devastated since all I’ve ever wanted to do was breastfeed my babies. They encouraged me that this is normal and to just keep at it. Slowly, yellow milk (colostrum!) started leaking from my breasts. I called the nurse in and cried to her that I was only able to get 3 drops and she insisted that Lammer rush it down to the NICU for them to swipe into the inside of Hanley’s mouth. It gave me some relief that he was getting some beneficial probiotics from me. That night, I visited the NICU every 2 hours to breastfeed Hanley. The first time he latched tears poured from my eyes. It was the most amazing and beautiful feeling. It was so incredibly primal how a baby with his eyes closed just knew to open wide and start sucking when he was put to his mommy’s chest. Nature at it’s best. For me, this was the love-filled moment I connected with him (literally and figuratively) for the first time as mother and son. The NICU nurse offered me a nipple shield for my flat nipples to help him latch more easily. (I actually breastfed him with a nipple shield for the first 3 months of his life until he started refusing it).  Breastfeeding hurt SO bad. That next morning in the NICU I remember looking up at the nurse while he fed from me and saying, “how much more pain do we have to endure as women?” Between barely being able to walk after giving birth, the horrendous pain of my back (from pushing), being sleep deprived and now the excruciating pain of breastfeeding…all I could do was cry. My body felt so broken.

That next day (Friday), Lammer went home to clean up and take care of a few things. Hanley was out of the NICU and rolled into my room in his little bed. I sat there in bed staring at this baby next to me. All I could do was cry out of fear. I had NO idea what to do. I had never even changed a diaper, let alone know anything about taking care of a tiny baby! I just wanted to sleep and let my beat up body repair, but how could I with this new responsibility?!  I was a hormonal mess and totally freaking out. Dr. Lee Clay from A Woman’s Place, stopped in to check on me and realized she caught me in a moment (only a woman would notice this). She sat down on the bed and listened to me explain how I was feeling. I was so upset that my birth plan was nothing of how I wanted things to go. I shared the fear of how I knew nothing about babies or how to care for him. She replied with the most comforting response. She went on to say that number one, I was able to birth my son vaginally and dodge a C-section. That was huge and something most women can’t say after enduring something as intense as I did. Number two, I have a healthy baby and at the end of the day that is all that any mother could ever hope for. She was totally right. Number three, women have an innate wisdom to nurture and care for their offspring and to trust myself and my instincts. I told her how all I wanted to do was sit here and stare at him. She reminded me that that was exactly what I should be doing – that it was an important part of this whole process. I was so relieved.

That night was the first night that Lammer and I were now a party of three. We had Hanley in the room until about midnight with us. We had the lights off and reggae playing while we rolled Hanley back and forth to one another in his cradle staring at his little face in awe. I later was holding Hanley in my arms while I was lying on the bed, his face right up to mine, nose to nose, looking at one another. Lammer was off near the window having a celebratory glass of bourbon with the music still playing. He softly started saying how proud he was of me and the strength I showed giving birth to Hanley the day before. He had thought that I would have to get a C-section but I proved him wrong. As I held the baby, I couldn’t get over how sweet the smell of Hanley was. His skin, his breath. That was another moment when I really connected with my son and our new little family. It was such a beautiful moment of time.

My love for Hanley continues to grow with each moment we spend together. I’m loving watching him grow right before my eyes. His tiny body changes in some way almost every day. It’s remarkable.

After writing and reading my birth story, it’s not easy for me to recall all of what went on. However, after I birthed Hanley I had a new understanding of the word STRENGTH. Even though there was strength throughout my entire pregnancy, throughout pre-labor and laboring, it was nothing compared to the strength that arose during those last 15-minutes before birthing Hanley. The strength that I was able to invoke the engagement of both my mind and body in such a stressful, painful state was something beyond comprehension, beyond just me.

For everything Hanley…pregnant with him and now life with him, here are our photographs.

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