We are so excited to share these two birth stories from Shelby Cellers. Shelby's good friends Hutch and Futch Photography made videos of both labors (found at the bottom of this post) and they are absolutely beautiful. Not only do you get to watch the most magical moments but you also get to hear about them from Shelby herself. Also, give Shelby a follow on Instagram because she has a lovely account.
I knew before I was pregnant with Apolline that I wanted a natural birth. We found The Birth Center of Northwest Arkansas early in my pregnancy and as soon as we walked in the door we were swept away with how warm and inviting the center was and how excited the staff was for our journey into parenthood. My pregnancy went rather smoothly. I loved the feeling of carrying another life inside me. I loved the mornings when I had given up on sleep and I lay next to my husband, Jack, and watched the early morning shadows dance with my belly and the sunlight shining off the peach fuzz that I hoped was only temporary (it was,) imagining that baby next to us. Already I felt her presence so intensely; from the very beginning she held an energy that couldn’t be ignored.
Apolline’s arrival earth-side was so true to form. She came strong and fast and without hesitation. As my due date approached I felt strange. I remember telling people that I felt like an animal – intuitively moving and sleeping and eating without thought to the day-to-day distractions I normally focused on. It was a very physical time for me and I felt like she would come soon. The night of her birth we walked down the street for dinner and as soon as we arrived I had a contraction that brought me to my knees. We ordered quickly and made our way home with my dinner and as we sat down to eat I realized that I was too uncomfortable to do so. I took off my clothes and drew a warm bath. My contractions picked up and were hardly a minute apart. Fifteen minutes passed and we were on our way to the birth center. This is the point that I now recognize as my transition. I sort of fell into myself and I didn’t want to speak or be touched, which is something out of the norm for me.
When we arrived at the birth center my midwife, Lauren, met me at the door. After we settled into our room she checked me and I was nearly a 7. I wasn’t comfortable laboring anywhere but the toilet for the next half hour or so. Family and friends arrived and the room was full, but quiet upon my insistence. I remember looking at Jack and apologizing to him. I could tell that after our Bradley instructions he was confused and wanted to help. I couldn’t tell him at the time how I felt. I couldn’t put into words how I needed to take this journey on my own. My water broke on the toilet and I felt immediate relief and was able to move to a birthing stool. My hips would buck involuntarily with each contraction and I pushed against my cervix causing a delay as we waited for the swell to subside. This was the scene for the next hour or so.
We moved to the tub once I was nearing time to push and I was but so relieved to finally let my body do what it was trying to for the past hour and a half. I faded into awareness and everything seemed sharp and clear. I felt like myself again and wanted Jack’s attention and he happily obliged. I have no idea how long I pushed. It felt short and Lauren’s direction was soft but assertive. She seemed to recognize when I needed her guidance and I was so thankful for that. I remember Apolline’s tiny face appearing under the water and I spoke to her before her body was birthed, apologizing for her discomfort. Her body soon slipped out like a little fish into Jack’s hands. She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen. I looked at her little face and it was like seeing an old friend, or remembering a dream I once had. She looked exactly as I had imagined she would.
A week before my due date I was working my final shift serving at a local restaurant and a woman stopped me with a strong grasp of my wrist. She looked at me with an intense gaze and said, “When you get to that point where you can’t go on any longer. When you are throwing your head back and wondering “God, why is this happening to me?” Just remind yourself – nothing is happening to you. Life is happening through you.” That stuck with my throughout my entire labor and nothing I’ve heard or read has ever been truer of my birth experience with Apolline. When I laid eyes on her all I could see and think and feel was life. I felt like, at that moment, we were both born.
Nine months after Apolline we began to discuss having a second baby. We couldn’t shake the feeling that our family wasn’t complete. The following June we decided to end my birth control, expecting to take at least the summer to conceive. We found ourselves staring at a positive pregnancy test the following month. My pregnancy with Milou was difficult. I had a large subchorionic hematoma and found myself bleeding and cramping often. I was frightened of a miscarriage. I continued to nurse Apolline throughout my pregnancy and often felt “touched out”. My nausea returned in my third trimester and I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well, but when I did I would dream over and over of Lou’s birth. I had frequent dreams of her being born en caul. My midwife with Apolline had moved just before my pregnancy with Lou and I met my new midwife, Sharon, sometime in my second trimester. Although I was reluctant for change, I found a well of support within the new staff of the birth center and was happy for the comfort of a familiar environment.
Lou’s labor began slowly on the evening of the 14th of March. That morning I had woken early and broken down. I was sure she would have come by then and I didn’t trust my intuition anymore. I was emotional and exhausted. Jack took Apolline and let me sleep a few hours alone and when I woke up I had come to an understanding of this baby. I accepted that she was comfortable and relaxed where she was and she would come when she was ready. I spent the day with friends resting and eating and playing with my belly. We went out for dinner and by the time we came home I noticed I was bleeding. Jack and I showered and cleaned the house and made a run through of everything we had packed in our birth bag. We spoke to our mothers but I insisted that they should wait because I worried I wasn’t in labor yet. Jack went to sleep around midnight and I played my favorite podcast, The Birth Hour, and listened to stories of other women’s journeys through birth as my contractions built strength. Around 2am I woke Jack - my contractions were 6 minutes apart and becoming very strong. We talked to our midwife, called our family and close friends, moved our sleeping toddler to the car, and drove to the birth center. The drive was a half hour and we were giddy. I was nervous because while my contractions were strong, I felt great between them and it was such a contrast to my labor with Apolline. I kept saying “maybe I’m not in labor? What if this isn’t it?” and then I would have a contraction and say “Okay, yes. This is it.”
Our closest friends met us at the birth center, two of whom were expecting, and the other two who had photographed Apolline’s birth. At the door we met Sharon and a nurse, Rochelle, whom I had known since my pregnancy with Apolline and whom I love dearly. Our mothers were on their way and at that point I was sure they would arrive before Lou was born. So many strong women surrounded us and I took such comfort in that. We wanted Apolline present for the birth, but we were very concerned about how she would respond to the situation. She slept for a while, and when she woke she ran across the room to me and I held her as long as I could before another contraction began. She was so sleepy and sweet and I couldn’t help but hold tightly onto my first-born and rest in those last moments before Lou arrived. For the next hour and a half I labored steadily. We talked and laughed and it felt like an intimate party. Apolline was a little light flitting about the room and she gave me a beautiful reminder of the strength I had and what I was laboring towards. I asked my midwife to check me again around 4:30 and I was at a 7. At this point my contractions came faster and stronger and Sharon suggested I move into the tub.
As I settled into the tub I began to push with each contraction. Things were very intense and I felt out of control, but Sharon and Rochelle comforted me and placed their trust in my body. A friend of mine had told me about a birth story she read in which the mama repeated to herself “you are getting so big” and I focused on that. I focused on opening and growing and surrendering to my body and my baby’s movement through me. At one point I remember thinking “How do I get out of this?” and that’s when I felt her come through. My water hadn’t broken yet and Sharon said to me “Your baby will be born en caul,” and I broke from a push to laugh. Soon after she shot out and it felt nothing like Apolline. I caught her and pulled her to my chest as they eased the veil of her sac off her face and she was just…she was beautiful. I held her close and sank into Jack as I cried in relief. She didn’t look anything like I expected. She had this tiny nose and her lips were full and swollen from moving so quickly through the birth canal. She wasn’t breathing well but her gaze was steady and when her eyes met mine I felt a great wave of peace wash over me. I birthed her placenta and moved to the bed where Apolline met us and wanted to nurse. She latched and pet me softly and brought me back to myself. She began to heal me physically as my empty uterus contracted and mentally as I settled into old patterns. Our mothers had arrived at the same time, moments after Lou. The room was open and warm and so full of love. I gazed at Jack in awe as I held my two girls. That moment is so complete to me; that sacred space surrounded by my entire little world.