Hello, April!
Small changes, big wins

Giving birth to Maeve


Maeve was born four years ago today. Just as the world around us felt like it was crashing down amid a global pandemic. And yet her birth happened in a halo of safety and peace and she brought us overwhelming joy, she still does. For Maeve's fourth birthday I've finally finished writing her birth story.

Birth stories, at least my three birth stories, are so much more than recounting a day. This one especially so. Each has been a culmination of anticipating, dreaming, and planning for so much longer than my pregnancies. When I think of the births of each of my children I think about how they came into the world and also about each of the transformations that I experienced as well.

Maeve's birth feels especially significant to me. Because she is the daughter I always hoped to have. Because during her birth I drew on all my strength as a woman to birth a future woman, and at a particular time in history when I was thinking a lot about the deep power that women have and also the ways that some seek to disempower women.

Giving birth to Maeve was at once one of the most physically demanding yet most empowering and joyful things I have ever experienced. It feels daunting to try to capture it in words. But I have tried, and really I wrote this for just two people, myself and Maeve.

Maeve, when you are old enough to read this, my love, I hope that you will see that you came into the world in peace and strength, and because of that I hope you will always be able to find those things within yourself. This is the story of how you came into the world and into our arms.


I was so sure that Maeve would make her debut early but my March 26, 2020 due date came and went. As eager as I was to meet my daughter I was also a little nervous about giving birth again. Having been through it twice before, I knew both that an unmedicated birth was the type of birth I wanted but that it was also painful. I wasn't looking forward to that part.

Although Chris and I were starting to get impatient to meet our baby we also enjoyed pleasant, slow days at home with the boys. Our home, backyard, and quiet neighborhood streets felt like a haven amid a global pandemic. I took each day as it came. I sat in the ready nursery, watched the boys play outside, watered my plants, and steam mopped the floor again (and again). I took long evening walks in the company of audiobooks followed by a hot shower to calm my restless pregnancy legs before going to sleep.

My mom had planned to fly in a few days before Maeve's late March due date but quickly changed her plans when she heard that the boys wouldn't be going back to school after spring break. On Facebook she wrote, "Schools are closed. Kelsey’s nine months pregnant. I’m needed." I'm so, so grateful that she was able to get to us.

I had a midwife appointment at 41 weeks and 1 day, a Friday. I sat for fetal monitoring with the cheerful, curly-haired midwife Emily who I had gotten to know through pregnancy and always enjoyed seeing. We chatted to pass the time and, like all conversations in the spring of 2020, ours was about the pandemic. We talked about kids being home from school and how we were managing, about how births were being affected, and when we could hope for a vaccine. When the monitoring came back normal I asked Emily what I should do – I was ready to have this baby! Emily was sympathetic and encouraging. She suggested some stretches and we talked about the option of having my membranes swept which can often induce labor a few hours later.

I decided I wanted to give my body a little more time. During my pregnancy and as I imagined giving birth I was focused on the word trust and trusting my body. At 41 weeks pregnant surely I didn't have much longer to go. So I scheduled an appointment for the following Monday afternoon thinking that I could be getting impatient by then.


I woke up Saturday, still pregnant, and feeling disappointed. Would I ever have this baby? To let myself have a bit of a pity party I reached far back into the pantry for one of the two boxes of Girl Scout cookies I had been saving to enjoy while nursing a baby. I ate a sleeve of shortbread cookies while reading a book in our shady, green backyard. It did make me feel a little bit better.

My mom offered to take the boys to her house for the night so Chris and I had another night to ourselves. Ever nesting, we tidied up the house (again). My birth center bag was packed with everything I could possibly need. I had my birth plan printed along with a packing list with the explicit instruction "don't forget the cookies in the freezer!" I was really looking forward to eating chocolate chip cookies after giving birth. I went to bed that night wondering, as I always did, "Would tonight be the night?"


I woke a little after 5 a.m. – still pregnant. Chris was already up, his side of the bed empty and cool. As I lay in bed, slowing waking up, I realized I was having a mild cramping sensation in my low abdomen. No pain but tightening – likely more Braxton-Hicks contractions although I didn't usually have them in the morning. Within half an hour the cramping was starting to take more shape. I opened a contraction timer app on my phone to see if I could time the sensation. Although I wasn't feeling any pain I felt a definite tightening for a short time and then an easing. And it was happening about 10 minutes apart. It was time to tell Chris.

I emerged from our bedroom into our quiet, clean house. Early golden sunlight streamed in. Chris had been spending his mornings in our side yard, doing pull ups and having coffee, so I eased open the backdoor to go find him. I felt the significance of what I was about to tell Chris. "Good morning," I greeted him and said, "I don't want us to get too excited yet...but I think I might be feeling some contractions." A smile spread across Chris's face. "Really?!" he said and I told him what I'd been feeling.

After being disappointed for so many mornings when I still hadn't gone into labor I didn't want to get my hopes up. I insisted to Chris that I just wasn't sure yet. I could tell that Chris was excited but didn't want to contradict his very pregnant wife. He said he would just start getting a few things together just in case. Whether I was in labor or not, what I did know was that I wanted to take a shower and have clean hair.

Around 6 a.m., I turned on the hot water and let the bathroom fill with steam. Although my whole pregnancy was a trajectory towards labor, to be facing the actual thing felt unbelievable. If I was in labor we would meet our daughter today, a moment I had been imagining for months, and to be honest wishing for for years.


I felt almost out of body with the significance of the experience as I was having it. To be in labor and give birth is both a rare and everyday occurrence. Every day, every hour, women are giving birth. And yet for any individual woman, for me, to give birth is to step into a parallel existence and to experience something other-worldly.

Preparing for unmedicated birth is very internal for me, as is the experience of laboring and giving birth. I don't think there is a "right" way to give birth and feel nothing other than awe for however a woman gives birth, and so much is out of our control when the time comes. I got very, very lucky that the way I wanted to birth aligned with my health and my baby's each of three times.

What I will say about why I chose to have unmedicated births is because, to me, giving birth represents a divine experience that connects me with the deepest, oldest powers of women and our natural world. I wanted to experience the full breadth of that connection. 

Giving birth also loomed like a question for me during my pregnancies. "What would it feel like to labor and give birth?" "How would I endure it?" "Who would I be?" The best metaphor I can imagine is to think of why marathon runners run marathons. Why put themselves through strenuous training and pushing their bodies beyond what most people ever choose do to? I think they too are driven by the need to know who they will be when they ask so much of their bodies, and by the exhilaration that comes from achieving great physical feats. Giving birth feels like that to me: endurance, strength, euphoria.


Having experienced it three times, I can tell you that there is a particular focused energy that Chris has when I am in labor. He is attentive and by my side during contractions while also packing the car and speed cleaning any last untidy spot in the house. And so this was Chris early on that Sunday morning.

After my shower I was feeling contractions with definite shape and intensity. I had to close my eyes, breathe, and sway through them. Although they were becoming more intense, and even somewhat painful, I could stay present and breath through them. I reminded myself not to fight against the feelings but to  accept them – my body was doing exactly what it needed to.

In our bathroom I set my phone to play a Lizzo station as I dried my hair. Lizzo had me gently dancing in between contractions and singing "I'm feeling good as hell!" Every few minutes I would have to put down my brush and hair dryer to close my eyes and sway through a contraction. But as soon as a contraction ended I felt completely fine.  Looking at the contraction timer on my phone I saw that I was having contractions every three and a half minutes and they were lasting the better part of a minute. Which seemed like real labor! However, I still felt completely fine in between contractions, making me question how quickly my labor would progress.

After showering himself, Chris checked in with me and stood behind me while I leaned on him through a contraction. He reminded me to breathe and pushed on my hips for counter-pressure. When I wasn't having a contraction, Chris and I were feeling giddy that our baby would finally make an appearance. Our girl! We couldn't wait to meet her. I was experiencing contractions but they felt manageable and in between them I felt completely fine.

Chris suggested we go get coffee right up the road and then see where things go from there. But before I could open the car door I felt a contraction coming on, the strongest yet. Instead of being able to sway and breathe through this contraction I could only close my eyes and lean against the car while taking breaths. After the contraction subsided I walked right back inside and said I could not handle going to get coffee. When the next contraction was just as intense Chris told me he thought it was time to go. I still felt doubtful but looking back at this moment I'm laughing at myself. I'm not sure why I'm such a labor-denier!

Chris said "Okay, if the next one is just as intense then I think we should go." A few minutes later I felt the next contraction coming on. I could feel a sensation in my abdomen before the contraction would start to build. I had just a beat to remind myself to breathe and that my body was doing exactly what it's supposed to. Then an intense pulling across my abdomen and deep inside me. I leaned into Chris behind me and he pushed on my hips for counter-pressure as I took one deep breath, two, three. When the contraction subsided we knew it was time to go to the birth center.


For months I had pictured labor, wondering when it would start and what it would be like this time. And now here it was.

I was excited but felt some dread too at the effort ahead of me. Chris and our midwife would be with me but I would walk through the tunnel of the pain of labor and birth alone. That felt scary. Throughout pregnancy I had reflected on my previous two unmedicated births to mentally prepare for a third. While I had good births overall with Dashiell and Cedric there were some things I wanted to happen differently. At times during their births I felt overwhelmed with the pain of labor. What I hoped for my third birth was to be fully present, accepting, and calm even when labor was really hard. I tried to hold those intentions in my mind as I experienced intensifying contractions.

Before we left for the birth center I asked Chris to take a picture of me and one of us together too. We beam in the morning sunlight knowing that we're on our way to meet our daughter. As we walked down the hall to the car I took Chris's hand and pulled him into Maeve's waiting nursery, just as our doula had done with us before we left for the hospital to have Dashiell. I squeezed Chris's hand as we looked at the sweet, bright room waiting for our baby girl. We were going to meet her today!

During the 15 minutes drive to the birth center I closed my eyes through contractions and Chris counted deep breaths for me. Between contractions I was happy and chatty. On every drive to my midwife checkups I had envisioned making this drive to have our girl – and now here we were! But I was worried about one thing: Chris taking the right exit! "Remember to exit Country Club!" I told Chris. Chris had made the drive to the birth center many fewer than I had and I worried he would miss the exit. I did not want to be in the car any longer than necessary. I'm happy to report that Chris exited County Club on the first pass.


At the birth center, our midwife Diane let us in the side door with a big smile. She also helped us deliver Cedric and saw me during pregnancy as well with Dash so we were comforted to see such a familiar face. She led us back through the quiet, dim birth center to one of the three birthing rooms. It felt as if the three of us were the only people in the world. At first glance the room gave the impression of a chic hotel. Windows facing west and north let in the spring morning light through sheer curtains. The floors, weathered grey wood-look tile, were cool and clean under my feet. A bed with fluffy pillows and made up in white  was to the right, a wooden dresser in front of it with a glass chandelier, and a large, modern tub was to the left.

"Here is where I will do this hard thing," I thought. And "Here is where I will hold my daughter for the first time."

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My phone still played upbeat songs from female artists as I set it on the dresser. I remember how still the room was and how at odds that felt with my intensifying contractions. Through my next intense contraction Chris pressed on my hips as I leaned back into him. The intensity and pain of the big work ahead of me loomed with immediacy. I thought about the birth work I would do, was doing, in this still room and that no one else could do it but me. I felt a deep and inevitable momentum towards what I knew would be really hard. It felt a little bit scary but I tried to just breathe instead.

Diane asked to check my cervix to see where I was in my labor. I laid back on the bed and felt pressure as she checked. As a practice at the birth center the midwives don't report centimeters dilated to birthing mothers. What Diane did say with smile was, "We're going to be meeting your baby very soon!" I remember feeling both disbelief and some fear. I was still feeling pretty good in between contractions and couldn't imagine how that could be true if I would also be meeting my baby soon. Her statement also made the big work of giving birth very close at hand which scared me.

Diane asked if I wanted her to fill up the tub and I said "Yes!" When birthing Dashiell and then Cedric at the hospital I had hoped to labor in a birthing tub but it never worked out. During my labor with Dashiell I had just settled into the tub when my water broke and hospital policy required me to get out of the tub. With Cedric there wasn't even time to fill up the tub.

When the tub was filled Chris helped me pull off my nightgown and climb my very pregnant self into the tub. As I sank into the hot water up to my chest I said, "Ohhhh that feels good." I couldn't believe how much better I felt in the hot water.

Here contractions changed and so did my responses to them. In hindsight I realize this was the transition of my labor, the most intense period before pushing begins. I laid on my side in the tub and Chris held a cool wash cloth to my head. I tried to breathe through contractions but the intensity and pain was such that I just had to endure it. I couldn't hold on to many relaxation techniques at this point. I remember a birthing attendant coming in at this point and Chris saying hello to her. I felt that a veil separated me from everyone else in the room. I inhabited only myself and my whole being was the expansive and intense pain in my abdomen. At the edges of that pain was soothing hot water.

I had the sensation of a contraction coming on, first an awareness of my abdomen that felt distant building to a gripping tightening from my stomach through my pelvis. I had the urge to bear down and push. My eyes were closed. I was beyond deep breaths. The sensations in my body demanded my attention and I worked to stay present in them without tipping into fear and panic, but they were close.

I remember Chris sitting next to the tub near my head, putting cool wash cloths on my forehead and encouraging me with phrases I told him I would want to hear like, "This is what being strong feels like."

Diane was sitting next to the tub near my taut belly. I remember her calm presence and voice. She said to me, calmly but firmly, "Don't be afraid of it, Kelsey." I heard her words through my closed eyes and I tried to accept all the sensations and pain I was feeling. I remembered that my body knew what it was doing and I tried not to be afraid as my whole being was intensity and pain and pushing.

In that moment I felt the most incredible thing: I felt Maeve, her whole little body with head and limbs, move down through me in a distinct and fluid movement, one small body pushing through my own. And then, between my legs in the water, an entire head emerged from me. My eyes were closed, I could not open them, but I reached down and felt her velvety head. I couldn't believe I was already to this point and that soon labor would be over! Knowing that gave me energy.

I still could not open my eyes and so through the darkness and across the chasm of all the pain, I heard Diane say, "Chris, are you ready to catch the baby?" Just minutes before I felt I must still have so much more to endure before getting to hold my baby. But here we were! Even with that knowledge I still felt very deep inside myself and away from the people in the room. I felt the beginning of the next contraction. As it began to build I gathered my entire being: all my mental and physical capability towards a singular thing. Push. Everything was darkness and pain.


And then all at once everything was light and exquisite relief as Maeve left my body and Chris was nestling her, all of her, soft and warm, on my chest. It all felt instantaneous and was all of the relief I have ever felt in my life compacted into those seconds. It was, and even just the memory of it now still is, the best.

I gathered my baby's legs, Maeve's legs, in my hand and cradled her head and looked at baby, my perfect, beautiful baby. I looked down at her and the first thing I exclaimed was , "It's really a girl!" A years-long hope now very real in my arms. I was euphoric and distinctly remember Maeve, red and plump, quietly staring back at us.


I carried the euphoria with me as Maeve and I were helped into bed. Chris snipped Maeve's umbilical cord and Diane massaged my abdomen to deliver the placenta, the last uncomfortable and slightly painful thing I had to do. We spent the next few hours luxuriating in the particularly joyous way that you do when you welcome a baby: holding Maeve and remarking to each other over every little thing we noticed about her, calling and texting friends and family, and eating those delicious cookies that I made sure we brought. An incredible breakfast spread was brought in as well which we feasted on.

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At some point Chris left to get us coffee, which is how we love to celebrate most things, and then held Maeve while I showered. Let me spend a moment to commemorate the post-birth shower, which for me, has always felt luxurious and triumphant. For me, taking a shower after giving birth is the first act of self-care after enduring the feat of labor and delivery. It's also the first time I have been with my body and only my body in many months. In a few moments, and in the comfort of hot, soapy water, I had a moment with just my thoughts and I marveled and rejoiced at being exactly where I was. The unknown and the pain of labor was over. We had our healthy baby girl. Life was bliss, and proceeded blissfully from there.


A few hours later, Maeve and I were both doing great and so Diane helped us get ready to go home. We felt ready to get our baby girl home and loved that we were able to leave so soon since birth centers have different requirements than hospitals. When we arrived home, we remarked on how unbelievable it was that we had left just a few hours ago to have Maeve. "It's like we ran errand and came home with a baby!" I said.

At home we settled in and after a while my mom brought the boys over. I was sitting up in bed, holding Maeve, when they came in with big smiles and hushed excitement to meet their baby sister. "Wow," Chris and I kept mouthing to each other, "We have three kids!" And I thought, "We're all here," which I hadn't truly felt after each of the boys were born. I had also never been able to see my mom so soon after giving birth and felt so happy and comforted by her presence. 240405_meetingMaeve

The boys held Maeve and touched her tiny hands and kissed her soft cheeks. And then my mom so graciously took the boys back to her house for another night. I stayed in bed and stared at Maeve; there is nothing so endlessly fascinating as your new baby, and Chris took charge of creating the most perfect and comforting first night at home with Maeve for us. He ordered pizza, our other go-to celebratory food, and we set up a computer to watch reruns of The Office in our bed.

And that's how we ended one of the happiest days of our lives, the day we met Maeve: together, in our cozy home, safe from a global pandemic, surrounded by comforts, and with our baby girl and final member of our little family.


P.S. Giving birth to Dashiell, Giving birth to Cedric, the first two weeks with Maeve, and one year of Maeve.