Kerri Shaw’s Birth Story
“This isn’t what I imagined,” Kerri thought to herself as she pushed through another contraction. The sound of beeps and signals were an unpleasant soundtrack to the moment. She could not get comfortable and no one was guiding her through her labor. Her husband James tried to help her focus.
A voice entered the room before Kerri could even see the woman who was dressed in scrubs. “You can’t move like that,” the nurse told her in a candid manner. “It cuts off the monitor. That’s why this is beeping so much.”
Kerri, feeling tired and discouraged, returned from her side to her back as James repositioned the pillows under her head. “I’m sorry.” She panted out the words as she recovered from her contraction. “I’m just in so much pain.”
“Of course you’re in pain,” the nurse chided, fumbling with the buttons on the machine. “You’re in labor!”
Kerri Shaw recounted her memories with us from her first birth experience in a hospital in north Pinellas County, Florida. We wanted her to share candidly about all three of her births—one at a hospital and two at Breath of Life. When women are empowered by the fearless stories of other women, they receive the confidence to make choices and to uncover their rights as women and mothers.
So, Kerri, how did you end up deciding on a hospital birth with your first child?
It wasn’t really so much of a choice. I was young and I just didn’t know there were options available to me. I was seeing an OBGYN and that’s just what you did. I knew that some of the hospitals in the area had a reputation, at least at that time, for not being very mom-and-baby-friendly, so I thought my only choice was finding a hospital that would have the best bedside manners.
I think a lot of women don’t know that they have choices about where and how to give birth. I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. I didn’t want to use drugs. I went to the hospital with something of a birth plan, but ultimately that birth plan was not even considered by those who were caring for me.
What can you share with us about your labor experience with your first baby?
Honestly, I was probably admitted too early. There was some concern about my blood pressure at one of my OB appointments and then a non-stress test showed that I was having strong contractions. I wasn’t feeling them, but that didn’t matter. They sent me to the hospital. Long story short, the hospital admitted me, I put on a hospital gown, got into a bed, and they hooked me up to all these wires and contraptions. From that point forward, I was pretty much confined to my bed.
How long was your labor? And what was it like for you?
Things just really weren’t progressing quickly. They monitored me for 15 hours and decided to break my water. Things sped up for a short time, but then they slowed again. That’s when they started me on Pitocin to get my labor moving. And, boy, did that bring on unpleasant changes. My contractions were so hard that within an hour I was begging for an epidural. So much for my desires to go drug-free.
I was stressed. The first anesthesiologist didn’t do the epidural correctly, so it had to be done twice. Then they started talking about a timeframe for a C-section. That’s when my stress started turning to fear, which I now know can slow down labor. I just felt like no one was really standing up for ME. They wanted to get this over with, get the baby out, and move me out of that bed so it could be open for someone else. 27 hours from when I was admitted, my little boy finally arrived without a C-section.
Do you remember what that birthing moment was like?
I do remember it. It just wasn’t at all how I thought my birth experience would look like. Yet, I don’t think any mom forgets that first moment when you hold your baby and look into his face. I mean, honestly, my delivery was fairly good, once it actually happened.
Were you able to nurse him right away?
The hospital didn’t have a lactation consultant there. So, here I have this precious baby and I had no clue how to get him to latch or start nursing. That’s something that can be really stressful already for new moms. It was actually my son’s pediatrician who helped me. And because the baby was fussy, the nurses wanted to give him formula so he wouldn’t be hungry. I had to be insistent that I didn’t want that for him.
So, fast forward a few years—how did you hear about Breath of Life?
After that experience, I ended up doing a lot of research. I didn’t like being confined to a bed or walking around with a “stick on wheels” that had drip bags and wires attached to it. So, in my research, Breath of Life appeared. I was like, ‘hey, James, I think I want to check this place out’ and he was skeptical. His family has a medical background, so his assumption was that this wasn’t going to be a good thing. I was insistent, however. We came for a tour and you all were so patient in answering all of the “what if” questions we had. By the time we left, I think James might have been more excited than me.
He really ended up loving it. Can you share how the experience was different for James?
James was definitely there for me at the hospital, but far less involved with the baby, because everything just happens so quickly. They take the baby pretty quickly after birth to get stats and there’s not really any opportunity for the dad to get skin-to-skin time. There wasn’t that immediate bonding moment for James and our first son.
However, at Breath of Life, first, the baby was handed to me before the cord was even cut. We had immediate skin-to-skin bonding and James was right there. We were there together, as an instant family. Then, once the cord was cut, James got to hold him and experience every moment of our second son’s entrance into the world. Same with our daughter. It was just a very intimate and special moment.
How was your overall birth experiences at Breath of Life?
Well, it was so awesome the first time, we came back for round two!
With my second baby, my water broke on its own and contractions started right away. That’s when we came into the birth center and things moved really fast from there. I used the birthing ball, and you introduced me to counter pressure, which felt so great against the contractions. I walked around, I took a shower, and ultimately I delivered my son in the birthing tub. From start to finish it was a total of 4 hours.
It was a very similar experience with my daughter, only with her I had already been experiencing false labor—for 6-7 hours at a time and then all activity would stop. So, you did a membrane sweep to stimulate the oxytocin and start my contractions. It worked! I started into active labor right away. From there, it was basically the same story as my son’s birth. I also gave birth to her in the tub. It was very special.
If you could describe the experience in a word, what would it be?
I have two words. Intimate. And freedom.
Everything was so peaceful and calm. I had the freedom to move. I was free from wires and machines. I had the freedom to deliver the way I wanted to deliver. My midwife and my nurse listened to me. They guided me and supported whatever I wanted or needed. I was handed my baby immediately and was encouraged to breastfeed. I just felt so loved and appreciated and heard. I remember my midwife saying to me, “Whatever you need, Kerri. Just let your body lead you.” That was so perfect, you know? God made our bodies to do this.
What advice would you give to a new mom who is making a decision between a hospital or a birth center?
First, know that you have options. Tell all the women you know that they do have choices—because I didn’t know that. Then, I’d say, start by asking yourself what you want your birth experience to look like. Then, check out both options, because what is right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another. Do what feels most comfortable to you. Just be sure to know your rights going into a hospital. I’d definitely highly recommend the Breath of Life childbirth classes as a great way to get information and to know your rights as a mother. Breath of Life also has great breastfeeding classes, so you can learn from the pros and not be stressed out like I was. Finally, reach out to Breath of Life and have a consultation with them. There’s no commitment. Be as informed as you can be about all your options. The right choice for you will be clear to YOU.