Tomorrow is my daughter’s first birthday. I wrote this letter to her and I plan on sharing it with her one day when she is old enough. In the meantime, my hope is that you will enjoy The Birth of Leea Rae in the video above and my words below. Other than documenting one of the most special experiences of my life, my intention is to empower more women to choose natural childbirth if they are given the choice. I learned to let go of fear and pain and I truly believe we were wonderfully designed to bring babies into this world with strength, hope, and faith alone. Here is our story.
[Thank you to my sweet cousin Cameron Faye Fulginiti with Cameron Faye Photography for once again, capturing the most precious moments of our lives and for grounding me in the undying love and faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in both the good and difficult times. You are pure sunshine my love.]
I’ll never forget June 30th, 2018 at 3:35 am. My world changed forever when they placed you, my daughter, on my chest. It was the best moment of my life. Right up there with staring into your Dad’s teary eyes while we said our marriage vows… and the morning we found out you were growing big and strong inside my belly.
Your due date was June 15th so naturally, being the planner that I am, we were ready for you exactly two weeks before on June 1st. God knew exactly what I needed. A chance to revisit a little thing called patience and time to stop all of the baby preparations and smell the roses. He gave us an additional four weeks to do just that since you arrived on June 30th. We went on date nights to our favorite Italian restaurants, saw The Incredibles 2 in the theatre, floated in Babbo and Tiki’s pool… a lot… and most of all just dreamed up what our little girl was going to look like, sound like, and be like.
I loved being pregnant with you. Since I take very good care of my body I honestly had no complaints other than the occasional back pain from carrying you around all day and a few headaches here and there. You (in my bump of course) and I kept teaching dance classes and choreographing routines all the way up until the last minute and we all worked out almost every day at Lifetime together with your Dad. We ate every fruit and veggie in sight and I could eat blueberries by the carton which is probably why they are your favorite now. You loved kicking me just when I’d lay down to get some rest and I honestly thought it was the most incredible thing I’d ever experienced. You were my little dancing ninja. I loved that it was like our secret language and that when I was in a meeting or out to eat, you would give me a little kick like “hey Mom I’m here with you.” It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about how you knew what I needed even before you arrived. Just a little encouragement that “we’ve got this” and “together we can do anything.”
Our original plan was to deliver at Baby and Company Birth Center however if you carry past 42 weeks they transfer your care to the hospital. At 41 and a half weeks we had another ultrasound and you (and my uterus) were perfectly healthy. I knew you were coming soon because you had dropped very low in my pelvis. Although we tried most of the safe activities to get labor going so we could stick with our original birth plan, it was clear you were going to come when you wanted to. I honestly feel like, had I not been forced to “be induced” at 42 weeks, I would have safely carried you and delivered you after another week or so. Luckily I was able to request that Dr. Jones and our birth team at the hospital start by breaking my water first (instead of issuing Pitocin) and let my body do what I know what my body was born to do. Bring a baby into this world safely and naturally.
So, we woke up on Friday, June 29th and knew that today was the day!! It was so different than I had envisioned and I definitely was anxious about delivering in a hospital instead of our birth center but I knew that this was all a part of God’s beautiful plan so I just relaxed into it. I also felt very prepared and steadfast in my desires for your birth thanks to the midwives and educators at Baby and Co, my warrior mama friends, our doula, and the wisdom of natural birth legends like Ina May and Dr. Robert Bradley. Most importantly your Dad and I were a team and we were ready to ROCK this. I spent the day packing, pampering myself, resting, and mentally preparing for the biggest, most empowering challenge I would face thus far in my life. I listened to pump up music, reread empowering phrases and verses I had saved for this very day, and even changed the lock screen of my phone to a collage of the most badass women and female characters I can name who give me strength just by glancing at their photo. I. Was. Ready.
I want you to know that women are designed by God to naturally bring babies into the world and it is truly the most beautiful display of female empowerment. God willing you will be blessed with a similar story one day and I’ll be right there to witness your strength. That is why I’m sharing all of this with you so you and many others can feel confident saying yes to a natural labor and delivery if they have the choice. I walked into that hospital like Ronda Rousey walking into the arena before one of her fights. I didn’t have a hoodie but I had my game face on and I was ready to endure whatever mental and physical pain I had to in order to bring you into the world safely. You see physical pain is simply one of the many signals that your brain is receiving at any given moment. That’s all. You can choose to “feel it” and initiate the pain – fear – tension cycle OR simply acknowledge it, accept it, ignore it, and focus back into your fight. I learned this important lesson from Ronda Rousey’s My Fight, Your Fight as well as the science behind how your body experiences pain in Dr. Sears’ The Pregnancy Book and I will never forget it. Pain is just a signal. It doesn’t mean agony, screaming, hurting, etc. Get rid of that vocabulary in your mind. Instead of thinking “wow that hurts” I forced myself to think “wow that is an intense sensation and it will pass”.
“You’ve got this.”
“Relax your muscles.”
“Your body is meant for this.”
“This is a normal sensation.”
“God designed and intended you to feel this intensity.”
“You are bringing your baby into this world and you are a badass”
One of the hardest parts about preparing for a natural labor for me was not being able to practice! You might think this is ridiculous but I actually practiced breathing into pain by using the foam roller at the gym. (There’s just something about a foam roller that can make you wrythe am I right?) Plus if you do it correctly, you are supposed to breathe and relax your muscles into the pressure, which is exactly what I needed to be prepared for. I actually really think it helped me especially because I have all kinds of dancer’s knots that when in contact with a foam roller, clock in at about an 8 on the pain scale.)
This positive self talk, paired with a rock solid mindset and belief in my body’s ability to bring a baby into the world naturally, AND an insanely amazing husband to coach me and physically support me during labor… resulted in the following.
We checked into Novant Hospital Uptown Charlotte at 6:30 pm.
I was already 5 cm dilated and 90% effaced when they checked me but no strong contractions. (I told you my body was already working on bringing you into the world!)
Dr. Jones broke my water at 8:00 pm which wasn’t painful at all even though your Dad was making hysterical faces at the length of the instrument she used)
Your Dad and I did a full ballet / crossfit fusion workout in the hospital hallways. (Please reference video for proof.)
I started feeling strong contractions within 30 minutes.
They strengthened by around 9:30 pm to active labor so I did not need any kind of extra medication to move things along. Praise Jesus!
Every single contraction felt more intense and closer together after that. I was showing signs of “transition” and truly having maybe 10 seconds in between each 2 minute long INTENSE wave and I remember just telling myself…eyes closed…leaning on your Dad and rocking my hips back and forth which was the only thing that relieved the pressure a bit… “Breathe and stay focused. Breathe and stay focused. You still have a long way to go and it’s going to keep getting more intense but you’ve got this. Your body is meant for this.” I think the thing that really helped me was using my voice (don’t be shy about this ladies it really helps!) in addition to breathing and also asking the nurses NOT to check me for progress. Because of this, I thought I was only 7 cm dilated in my head based off of what I had learned when in actuality I was already at a 10 and almost ready to push! Your Dad was the best coach ever and when you see him using an ice pack for his back just remember it’s because he held us both up for six hours straight that night. Also having Tiki and Auntie Cam in the room gave me so much power and peace of mind. They prayed over us and made sure I was well hydrated with complete shakes and coconut water so I could keep my energy up.
The only time I lost focus was when the nurses would make me lay on my back in bed for intermittent fetal monitoring (much better than constant fetal monitoring so request intermittent if you can) but I just tried to use the same mindset tools I had practiced. I remember laying on my side on the bed and feeling you literally drop into the birth canal which was immediately followed by this insane sensation to push. It was like I had no control over my body when the push sensations would come over me and my abdomen would dramatically contract me into a “crunch” position. It came on so fast that our birth team wasn’t ready for you to come into the world yet so a nurse told me I would just have to wait. Let me just stop right there. I literally laughed out loud for the first time in a few hours. Your Dad actually had to let his booming voice reign through the intercom in order to get the team in the room and I remember Cam yelling at a nurse “can someone, anyone, just please catch this baby?!” Solely on the grace of God and a “very empathetic nurse” who told me to just pretend like I was blowing out a candle in order to keep the baby in (LOL)… 30 minutes later they were finally ready. Yes. 30 minutes. Perhaps that is why within three pushes you were in my arms! My first push wasn’t effective but because I could feel everything without an epidural, I was able to take corrections from Dr. Jones and try again. I nailed it on the second one and the third one you were born into this world! Or in other words, you “shot out like a bobcat” in the delirious, hysterical words of your father.
You were here! You were here! I just remember this overwhelmingly satisfying mental and physical relief that I had been awaiting for almost 10 months. You were here. You were healthy. And you were ours forever. You were perfectly pink with dark brown hair and your sweet cry joyfully rang through the room. They placed you on my belly and you immediately lifted your head, army crawled up my chest, and in a very determined fashion (just as we know you today) went looking for milk. After they took care of my post delivery needs (placenta delivery and a few minor stitches which I had to re-channel the same pain management mindset for), I was able to sit up and you immediately latched and started to nurse. You were a champion eater from the very beginning. I will never forget gazing into your eyes in that moment and feeling like I had known you forever. “Of course it’s you.” “I love you so much.” “I am going to give you the world.” “Thank you God for this baby girl.” “We did it.” I could have stayed in that moment for an eternity. This my favorite picture of “us.” A new family of three. All of us having worked together to simultaneously experience the greatest challenge and the greatest gift of our lives. Your birthday. From day one you have brought us more joy than we could ever imagine and you continue to do so. You light up our world with your spirit, your kind heart, your grace, and especially your fiery, determined, and confident personality. This first year of your life has been our greatest adventure yet. Thank you for making us parents Leea Rae. Your “Dada” and I love you more than life itself. Be kind and have faith. You are stronger and braver than you can ever imagine and you can do whatever you set your mind to. Since June 30th, 2018 we have and will forever be the biggest fans of your life.