Sebastian Gray’s birth story | Portland, OR birth photographer & videographer

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Every birth is so special to me for different reasons.
But it’s not every day that you get to capture one of your best friends on the strongest and most miraculous day of their life.

(Please click on “View Full Post” to read their birth story before watching their film. As always, this film is **completely modest**.)

I waited for this day with almost as much growing anticipation as Nicole did. She has become one of my closest friends over the last three years, and I have always admired her strength and transparency surrounding her struggles with weight, body image, depression and anxiety. She has such a confidence about herself, and is truly one of the most beautiful, witty, selfless, and loyal friends I have ever had. She inspires me to be healthier, be a better businesswoman, get more organized, and enjoy life. She is an incredible wife, and mother to two other beautiful kiddos. She is constantly wanting to learn more, give more, love more. She shows me Jesus.

Although our pregnancies have been very different, we connected even deeper as we walked the journey with the other. And I admire her SO much for educating and empowering herself on her rights as a healthy, plus-size pregnant woman. Awe-inspiring is the least of what I can say about how she grew and birthed this sweet baby boy, trusting her body and exploring every option to do what she believed was best for herself and her son.

I encourage all of my clients to write out their birth stories if they feel up to it, for their own memory’s sake, for their child to treasure someday, and sometimes to process their birth experience. I’m so proud of Nicole for taking her time to write out her story in great detail, and also thankful that she is willing to share it so publicly. I also know that there are many wonderful plus-size mommas out there that could benefit from her story, perseverance, and watching her bring her baby into the world as naturally as possible. The support for plus-size pregnant is not always there, (often quite the opposite,) and Nicole is a fantastic example of someone who educated and stood up for herself even when the pressure was on. I was so honored to capture the culmination of all her hard work, and thrilled to share it with you all. Please enjoy reading her story & viewing the photos from their birth-day below.

“Today I am a mom of three children. Each of these children were brought into the world without pain medication and in a hospital. With my first two children, I had perfect pregnancies with no complications (despite gaining a lot of weight). I had spontaneous labor a week early with my first and eleven days late with my second. With these two births I showed up to the hospital a couple hours before pushing with my first and an hour before pushing with my second. If there were complications with fetal distress or low amniotic fluid – no one knew about it and no one seemed to be worried about it. I had my regular visits, but no one mentioned anything about monitoring the baby. I was just pregnant and the baby was going to come out when she/he was ready to come out.

In the middle of April of 2013, my husband and I found out (because I had solid dates) we were expecting our third child on Christmas Day. My expectations for this third pregnancy were the same. I was confident I could have a natural labor, intervention-free, in a hospital – because this was my previous experience.

I was blessed from the very beginning with a wonderful team of caring midwives. I started out at our local birth center, but because I took an antidepressant in the beginning days of my pregnancy, I was told I needed transfer my care to either a home birth or a hospital. Transferring care while pregnant was scary for me and it was actually devastating. I landed at a local hospital where my care seemed to be normal and despite immense fear, I was blessed with yet another perfect pregnancy and only a 15lb weight gain.

At 41 weeks and 1 day (Thursday) I was 1cm dilated, 50% effaced, long, thick and posterior. And everything “natural and normal” ended there. At my checkup, the midwife mentioned she was scheduling an induction. All I heard from her after that was “Cytotec.” I left the office worried, devastated and in tears. I knew I did not want to induce. And I especially did not want to induce with Cytotec due to the risks of fetal stress. Tuesday at 8pm was the imposed induction date.

Later, I emailed my favorite midwife at the practice to ask about the Foley bulb. I wanted to go in to my Monday appointment, get it inserted, come back home and see what would happen. At my particular practice, the Foley bulb was inserted after check-in (in the hospital) and at no point sooner. At that Monday appointment the midwife told me she would have a hard time getting a Foley bulb in me since my cervix was so posterior and “unfavorable.” I was upset again.

I was doing everything natural to get labor started and I had been trying that for quite a while. I actually started trying to soften my cervix with Evening Primrose Oil at 37 weeks. But, in addition to this, I was regularly hiking on trails, walking, continuing bouncy machine workouts in the gym, stair climbing (sideways and regular), street curb waddling, consuming spicy food, had 2 acupuncture visits, acupressure, drinking nalgenes full of strong raspberry leaf tea, having an over the top amount of “husband time”, 4 membranes sweeps, pineapple and eventually, as a last result on Tuesday afternoon, an at-home home induction method using 3T of castor oil with tiny doses of black and blue cohosh spread over three hours. I also had intermittent breast stimulation from the breast pump in between the 1T of castor oil. I tried everything. Seriously.

As a final plea on Tuesday, I called three doulas and two respectable midwives in the Denver area to see if I could get any other kind of care if I were to transfer to their practices at the last minute. This was a very serious and scary proposition for me, but I needed to know that I was bringing my baby into the world using the safest means. These three doulas and two midwives had great reputations for natural care; so, I trusted them and their opinions. They graciously took time out of their extremely busy day to share their expertise out of concern for me (a random phone call from a person they were not even going to meet or get paid to treat). Most of them concluded that I should trust my midwives and they would give the exact same care. Two of the doulas believed I should stand my ground and wait it out. The pressure was on – especially after speaking to the midwives. I felt I had no other choice but to induce.

I finished the home induction with the castor oil at about 4pm on Tuesday and I then started having serious gas pains at 6:30pm which were triggering contractions. In a sober state, I got in the car with my husband and the gas pain picked up (along with the nausea that resulted from consuming the castor oil).

I checked into the hospital and my favorite midwife comes in to greet me. With the most wonderful smile she asks, so, “How do you feel about this? Are you ready?” I am honest with her and tell her that I feel pressured with no choice. I knew the four biophysical profiles done on the baby were conclusive: my little guy was happy and healthy. But, there were three factors that brought me there that evening: being reminded in an appointment by a different midwife (quite forcefully) that my risk of still birth doubles each day I go over 42 weeks. From my own research, I knew the evidence was not completely accurate. I knew that my treatment of care would not be any different anywhere else in the Denver area. And, it was possible that, like my second born, my third baby could not be growing anymore. I was there out of fear and pressure. In that moment, induction was the only “decision” I could make. I informed the midwife that I was going to do the Cytotec since my second and third opinion said it was what they would do as well.

While speaking with the lovely midwife, I was still contracting as a result of the gas from the castor oil. She kept asking, “are you sure you are not in labor now?” The contractions got more serious and I stopped insisting they were gas. I guess I was in labor. I was treated with aromatherapy and even got into the shower because the waves of pain were that intense. After about four or five hours of these contractions, I felt tired and got into the bed to rest while they eventually died off. I was checked in the morning and I was 2 dilated, 50% and baby was -2. This did not surprise me. I learned in my previous births nothing happens to this body until I am in real labor. However, all those contractions I experienced thru nipple stimulation and the castor oil changed my cervix to “favorable.”

My midwife wanted to give me fluids early in the morning, but I mentioned, “how ’bout I just drink a lot?’ (Which I was totally capable of because anyone who knows me knows I can drink a 32-ounce nalgene in a few seconds flat.) This worked for her – sixty ounces of water went down the hatch (in addition to a large cup of cranberry juice). By the time the second midwife came in she was adamant I needed that damn IV (which I never wanted) and she wanted to double the amount of fluids originally mentioned by my first midwife.

After breakfast and a few of my own (seemingly) unproductive contractions, they wanted to monitor the baby with continuous monitoring to do a stress test to see if my baby would handle the immense contractions from the Cytotec. This included that IV and pitocin. To handle what I was dealing with from the pitocin, I of course was out of bed. That, along with numerous bathroom visits, was making the monitoring increasingly difficult. All it took was one little hip rotation and it was knocked off. I warned the nurse in advance about this, but she seemed to have a patient attitude toward coming into my room every two minutes to readjust. I think they told me to get in bed where they were able to monitor the baby better, although a little turn in the bed did the same thing. They found out the baby was handling the contractions well and I then asked for the Foley bulb.

Just after 2pm, the Foley bulb was inserted and I was happy. I was still hooked to a low dose of pitocin to get stuff started. At about 6pm Wednesday night, the Foley bulb fell out. I was disappointed and felt like a failure because I was not sure it stayed in long enough to do its work. I was then checked and I was 3cm dilated. They took me off the pitocin and I was having my own on and off contractions – but they seemed to be dying down. They said that there were a couple monitored contractions where they did not like how the baby responded so the plan for Cytotec was off the table – which I was very happy about.

That evening I was so bummed and my attitude at that point really stunk. I am sure my midwife was feeling my negativity. I sent a few friends a message to pray for me because after being there for 24 hours, I was not liking my interactions with the midwife and how there was just one intervention after another. On top of that, the continuous fetal monitoring was a joke. Since I had no pain relief, the best way to work through the contractions was with movement and to get out of that dumb bed. This experience was starting to feel like something other than birth. It was becoming some wild animal that I had no control over and as a result I was feeling more jaded. I even considered not letting my birth photographer know I was in labor (when the time came) because this was turning out to be a labor I would never want to capture or remember.

At 9pm they connected me to a low dose of pitocin and told me to get some rest. The hope was that a low dose would soften my cervix overnight and that they would increase it over time to induce labor. Sometime around 3am I woke up and needed to breath through the contractions that were coming. This is when I say labor actually began. I needed my husband to help me through them at around 5am, so I woke him up. The midwife checked me and said I was 4cm and that the baby had descended lower than his previous -2 position. She wanted to get things moving and that is when she mentioned breaking my bag of waters. I was staunchly opposed to this. I think she came in and mentioned it a few times. At some point, I gave in to her request because she said she would impose no deadline for delivery after the water was broken and that there was no danger of the umbilical cord coming out first since the baby had descended. She broke my water in between a contraction while I was crying and praying out of fear and worry. It was obvious, I still did not want this to happen. Thankfully, the fluid was clear.

Sometime around 6am the midwife wanted to see more clarity in how the baby was handling the contractions. They were not pleased with what they were seeing because the monitors kept getting messed up with every little movement I made. She wanted me to labor in the bed and I looked at her like she popped a third eye. I kept saying there is no way I would ever labor naturally in the bed. I labored in the bed with my first and never again would I do that. But, then she said the baby did the best in the bed and I heard a tone. She kept saying that we needed to proceed or we would be having “a completely different conversation with the on-call OB” The different conversation was a c-section threat. She said she wanted to insert a fetal monitor since my water was already broken. I definitely did not want to do it because anything inserted in the baby’s head seemed ridiculously invasive. My husband and I started to worry. In that moment I needed wisdom and I called my doula (who was very sick and was unable to make it to the birth). She said the best chance of getting out of the bed and laboring was to insert the fetal monitor and it would give the staff the most clarity on the condition of the baby. She did not see the inserted monitor as a big deal and we trusted her. She brought tremendous peace to my husband and I. After talking to her, we decided to do the fetal monitoring. I asked the midwife about the water birth that I was scheduled to have. They said that the water birth was only possible if the midwife saw perfection. It then was shift change time and I got a new midwife. The new midwife was quiet and had the sweetest demeanor. She was exactly who I needed in that moment.

Minutes after having the monitor inserted, I was told to get back in that stupid bed and to labor there. The reason was that the baby did better while I was in the bed. Because I have an extra vertebrae that was fractured (half of which is fused to my pelvic bone the other half in proper place on my spine), I thought they were crazy. I looked at them in disbelief. But, of course, I wanted my baby to be safe and healthy. So, there I was, back in the same position I swore I would never be in laboring again – on my back. I knew the water would bring the relief I needed, so I asked about getting in the bath tub or shower. They said no and I was again struck with disbelief.

I was checked at some point and I was told that the baby was still at -2 position. Did the baby float back up or was I just manipulated by the previous midwife allowing her to break my bag of waters? I felt manipulated, but I don’t know for sure if I was.

After a few minutes, the baby did poorly on the monitors due to the stress of not having any amniotic fluid (since they broke my water). Duh! This is obviously was not a shock to me and was a big concern before the midwife broke my water. So, the midwife said she needed to put fluid back in to my uterus. I was in disbelief about how many interventions had been done at this point. I did not even know they could do something like that! So, the midwife inserted a saline solution and it was the strangest feeling I have ever felt. It also hurt! By 8am the baby was apparently doing well again.

The pitocin induced contractions kept coming and at around 9am I was 5cm super soft and stretchy to 6. These contractions were far more frequent than the contractions I experienced with my previous two labors. Laying on my left side, my hips felt like burning explosions and it would wrap around to my back, where there to, I would experience another burning explosion. I told my husband and I was more bitter than ever before that I was in that stupid bed. The contractions kept coming and I knew when they would come because I would hear the drip release the drugs. I began to loathe that piece of equipment. Unlike my first two births, contractions kept coming with a consistent and quick intensity that challenged me greatly. I knew when I hit transition and I let the midwife know. I was checked at around 11am to be 8cm, 90% and super thin. I let Laura, my dear friend and birth photographer know since she was on her way.

My husband was doing a great job, but we had been there for two days. He was so tired and still trying to be so attentive. So, when Laura showed up, it was a breath of fresh air. She got me through the last hour of my birth by bringing me to a relaxing place of peace in between every contraction. I remember thinking Laura was taking pictures, but the last hour was so intense and she was so quiet, I never knew when she was taking pictures. As the contractions kept coming and as I worked to keep my breathing rhythmic to take control of the pain, I noticed that my birthing noise got lower. It just felt better and it matched what my body was doing. I had never been a vocal laborer before, but this time was different. Breathing started to get harder and they still wanted me in that stupid bed.

Finally, I had enough. I refused to stay in the bed. At this point, any time I would move, it would trigger a contraction that felt like it would be the death of me– regardless of whether it was time for the drip to release the pitocin. Ironically, I dreaded getting out of bed. But, after I was out of bed, I worked through a few more contractions standing, on the toilet and then on the birthing ball. The pressure came. I got back in the bed, but this time on my hands and knees. One contraction came and I knew it was time. I started releasing my body into the pressure of my hips and on my cervix. I was almost pushing and grunting deeply, but I was hesitant because I was not checked to see if I was completely dilated. I honestly thought I was going to get in trouble from my midwife for releasing into the pressure. That sweet soul never said a word. I knew I was ready, though, so I just gave into the pressure again, this time with a significant push and a deep long grunt. I was afraid I was having a bowl movements so I was not confident in my pushing. The feeling of pushing on my hands and knees was so different than the feeling I had with my other births of laying on my back and squatting in the bed. The midwife gave a wee bit of a jerk and then I knew I was not pooping – I had just delivered the head! At this point, I gained confidence. I was so excited to be in this moment. I instantly pushed the rest of the baby out and I was grateful, relieved and proud. Sebastian was passed through my legs from my husband and the midwife. I laid back and the next few hours were a blur. The one thing I do remember was this intense feeling of euphoria – there is nothing like it. Natural birth is amazing, and now, I can say that natural birth is amazing and rewarding three times over.

I ended up with a postpartum hemorrhage that did not resolve itself for quite some time. I have a strong suspicion that the hemorrhage was as a result of the pitocin since I did not have a hemorrhage in my previous births and it is a documented side effect of pitocin. From my perspective, our bodies and our babies were not meant to handle the rigors of pseudo oxytocin. My natural labors were in and out, intense, but I did not have very consistent contractions so my body was able to recover better in between the waves. Little Sebastian came out quite bruised from the quick intensity of pressure from dropping so fast and since he held many risk factors for jaundice – including a pitocin induced delivery, he spent 8 hours under the light on his second night.

My birth was definitely not what I imagined – definitely not perfect. I never imagined I would go to 42 weeks and have so many interventions, but I did and I dealt with it the best way I knew how. I birthed my baby and he was perfect.”








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Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Puyallup, Washington birth photographer & videographer

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