The amazing Donna Smith, mother to Heather "Hezzy" Rivera (passed away June 13, 2013 at 28 years old) and Amanda Zahn. Amanda is mother to Riley (3 years old) and Ender (7 months old)
Donna divorced her daughter's father and says that soon after she met the man she was always meant to be with. Early on in their relationship she had two miscarriages. "We will never have children together, but lucky he took both of my girls into his heart and into his life".
When Donna was pregnant with her first daughter she says she was young in life experiences. "I took everything the doctor said as gospel and almost lost my daughter because of it, as I was too afraid to speak up". Her parents steered her towards an old family doctor, the one who had actually delivered her dad. Every time they listened for heartbeats, she was told that there were two and she was so very excited to be having twins. The pregnancy progressed along without any difficulties and her due date came and went, but the doctor just kept saying, "When they want to come out they will". She carried a month past her estimated due date and the doctor encouraged her to just keep waiting.
Finally, after two more weeks, they went to a new doctor who insisted she deliver immediately and she was prepped for a emergency cesarean. When she came out of the anesthesia haze, they told her she had a baby girl, and that there was just one baby. "To this day, I wonder if that is true. Afterwards, a nurse told me that Amanda had been born dead. The umbilical cord had already worn away and they couldn't tell me how long she had been like that". They were told that Amanda would never live a "normal" life but she went on to hit every milestone early, excelled in school and has been very healthy her whole life.
In 1984, Donna learned she was pregnant again as she was overseas with her husband for a deployment in Spain. She knew that they would deliver via repeat cesarean and everything went well with pregnancy and delivery. At her two week checkup, they realized she was having trouble walking, so they checked her leg and rushed her to the hospital for blood thinners after finding that a blood clot had moved from her leg to my lungs. "I spent three months in the hospital and missed out on Heather's first experiences of life. Who knew that 28 years later she would die of the same thing."
Devastatingly, on June 13, 2013, just four weeks after giving birth to her fourth child, Heather died from a blood clot. "She was 28 years old, and left us with four grandchildren and a son-in-law who we love as our own".
"I think that there are a lot of women who feel alone in what they are experiencing. Be it miscarriage, stillbirth, rainbow babies, or the fear of taking home a newborn. There is never an instruction manual and you have to pick your own way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way. With a project like this, stories are being told, beautiful pictures being shared, and it brings all women together. They will know that there are others out there experiencing similar things. I hope they will realize that as a mother they are even more beautiful."
Amanda says that her journey into motherhood started with her sister's pregnancies. "I was lucky to witness her blossom from my baby sister to the mother of 1, 2, and then 3 kids before I got pregnant with my oldest. We were both pregnant at the same time - a wish she'd always had for us - and our estimated due dates were only a few weeks apart".
Her sister was due in late May and was planning on being Amanda's doula in early July. She says that she was filled with the normal nerves of a soon-to-be new mom, but was also filled with confidence because her sister was going to be with her as she gave birth to her son - with a midwife - in her home. "I never could have imagined the level of devastation I could feel at the loss of my sister, but - two weeks after the birth of my youngest niece - my sister suffered a pulmonary embolism and she died. So here I was: 8 1/2 months pregnant, grieving the loss of my sister, attempting to be the same rock for my family that I always was, and suddenly so scared of making the wrong decision. "Is this safe to eat? Hezzy would know." "Do I want to labor in the shower or the tub? Hezzy would have a story to help me choose." "What are some coping techniques for labor? Hezzy was supposed to be there to help me."
Amanda went into labor spontaneously and spent a good amount of time in the pool in her bedroom. About 8 hours after the first "real" contraction, her midwife realized she was in a lot of pain and nothing was helping. They decided to head to the hospital to be on the safe side. Amanda progressed to 10 cm on the 40-minute drive to the hospital, but labor stalled there for her. As soon as Amanda was admitted she said she was treated poorly. "I was the bad guy. My husband and I were "hippies" for trying to birth at home. We'd "endangered mother and baby by not coming in sooner." I remember being bullied and mistreated under the guise of "in baby's best interest."
Amanda was given Pitocin to regulate her sporadic contractions, an epidural for the pain, and a (seemingly) constant barrage of questions and blame from the nurses and on-duty midwife. When the OB came to check her after 24 hours of labor, 3 hours of active pushing, and a slew of things happening she did not want or plan for, he suggested a cesarean. "3 more hours, or 3 more days, this baby isn't coming naturally," he'd said. And Amanda felt like she'd failed. "I had held on to lofty dreams of having a peaceful, natural birth in my home with a midwife and my family present and it felt like I'd failed by being weak enough to "need" an epidural, inconsistent enough to "need" the Pitocin, and unable to give birth like physiology said I should be able."
Looking back on what remained of Riley's birth story, Amanda says she still feels very lucky. "His heart rate stayed strong throughout the entire labor and birth; it never faltered. I'd gone into labor knowing he was breech, but was happy to learn that he'd turned. His umbilical cord was short and wrapped twice around his neck. It wasn't life threatening, but it did mean he was never physically able to get into the birth canal. That was a small saving grace for me; I hadn't totally failed. I'd endured hostility, bullying, and force from the hospital staff even though the end result would likely have been the same: c-section".
Amanda vowed to do things differently when she learned she was pregnant again. She knew she'd be moving cross country so she say an OB initially but switched to midwives when she relocated. The midwives operated on a rotating schedule which concerned Amanda so she decided to hire a doula as well, something her sister had advocated for. "The next 3 months were a constant push and pull with a hospital system - and midwives - who did not like that I said no to tests, declined to have my cervix checked, and adamantly declined induction. Even with constant friction, I did connect to two midwives and hoped one would be the one on duty when I went into labor." When Amanda carried 2 weeks past her estimated due date her became her beacon of calm. At 42 weeks pregnant, her doula came over to help her stretch a bit in hopes of getting labor going and within 45 minutes things began and progressed much harder and faster than they had with her first.
Thankfully, one of the midwives with whom she had connected was on duty. Amanda labored medication-free until her son's heart rate started dropping dangerously low with each contraction and she decided to request a cesarean. "It was not an easy decision for me, but I felt empowered nonetheless because this time it was my choice and no one else's". I often wonder if I would have felt like my first son's birth had "failed" if my sister had been there with me like we'd originally planned. That is one answer I will never have.
"I've been following this project for a long time now and I always love how it makes me feel. I can feel the love, the pain, the hope... and I wish to be able to give that to another mother who might be hurting, or might be joyful, or might feel alone. I am a mother. Encompassed in that simple phrase is so much: fear, hope, joy, sorrow, growth, wisdom... and love. I am love."