Becoming a parent is pretty amazing, but mothers definitely have a unique perspective. Whether by adoption or by birth, becoming a mother is a transformative experience. It can be overwhelming but can ultimately change us for good.
I was adopted as an infant in 1970 by Bennie and Bonnie Shellnut, two wonderful parents
As an adoptee, I am constantly in awe of women and men who eagerly welcome children into their families for which there is no biological connection. I am the recipient of such love. I am equally wowed by parents, who for whatever difficult reasons, choose to place their child for adoption. It is uncommon to meet them—I can count on one hand the number of birth mothers I know—but they are all my heroes.
Growing a baby for nine months then allowing someone else the privilege of raising him or her is an incredibly selfless and loving act. To the birth mothers I know—Royann, Patricia, Karen, Courtney and my own birth mom, who I may likely never meet: may your sacrificial love be an example to all and may all mothers faced with a crisis pregnancy choose adoption!
Our bedroom is adorned with a collage of each child's pregnancy and birth announcement. Photography by Suzanne Martin, my bestie who captured much of my young mothering, the first two with real film--now a relic--and digitally for the latter.
Twenty-six years ago when I was pregnant with our first child, Bailey, I told the obstetrician at my first prenatal visit that I had wanted a home birth and he noted this in my medical record along with “husband disagrees”. Scott got his way for the first birth. We compromised on caregiver and location for Jacob’s, our second birth. Both ended in c-sections, a healthy baby and a terribly conflicted mommy.
Holding and nursing my precious babies are two of the most exhilarating and wonderful experiences of my life. But as I would gaze at them, I would sometimes have the sad, irrational thought, "Did she/he really come from inside of me?”
Recovering from surgery and the great disappointment of medically-managed birth was physically and emotionally exhausting. I did a lot of reflecting, crying, praying, reading, writing and talking with Scott.
Refusing to believe the lies that “your pelvis is too small” and “your baby is in danger”, Scott and I went through some intense investigating and soul-searching, especially following our second birth, the failed vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) that we attempted with a nurse midwife and hospital birth center.
This experience, of trusting the medical model/active management of labor and not my own body and evidence-based maternity care led to the creation of birthNETWORK, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization. Out of great trial came great blessing, a local information clearinghouse and support group where parents and caregivers could meet to share information and encouragement.
With the support of my wonderful husband, I surrounded myself with smart, strong women who helped me find the data and also the determination to trust God’s design for birth. Within the next five years, Scott and I went on to birth two babies at home.
A dynamic trio of husband, midwife and doula (shout out to Bridgett and Lisa!!) supported me as I DELIVERED Aaron, my first vaginal birth, after a long labor including four arduous hours of pushing. Every fiber of my body ached for days (even the hair follicles on my head!), but my heart soared as I reveled in realities: my pelvis is not too small for my biggest baby yet (9 lb, 10 oz.) and my baby was not in danger though he took a long time to come (specifically, variable heart tones do not necessarily indicate trouble—my certified professional midwife was trained to know if they did.)
A dynamic trio of our children Bailey, Jacob and Aaron surrounded me as I DELIVERED Isabella, who would not wait for her Daddy or the midwife to arrive. And she was the biggest Spry baby of all! Weighing in at 9 lb 12 oz., the midwife said she had “ice-cream shoulders”. Maybe I had enjoyed four too many scoops of chocolate chocolate chip Häagen-Dazs?
After such a long labor with Aaron, I had prayed for a swift delivery and God answered with an exclamation point. The scripture I had meditated on was powerfully illustrated in Bella’s swift two-hour labor.
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us…” ~ Ephesians 3:20
Amen! Thank you LORD for making me a mother, allowing me to gestate and birth four babies and growing me mentally, physically and spiritually along this amazing 26-year journey.
From left, our four children, Aaron, Bailey with Isabella on her lap and Jacob ~ 2007 Suzanne Martin photography
My birth experiences ran the gamut and having this unique perspective—from surgical to unassisted—allowed me great grief and great joy. I am thankful I did not have four typical hospital births. But then, I knew I never wanted pain medication—I wanted to embrace the experience fully aware and uninhibited.
I do not judge women who want hospital births or epidurals…most of my family members and many friends have eagerly desired and had such. I have been blessed to attend many births in all settings. My observation and experience is that, hands-down, home birth is the most peaceful and respectful of the birth process. In hospital birth, moms and babies too often become the object of care, whereas with home birth, they are the subject.
I am thankful for hospitals and doctors and have benefited from both many times. The history of westernized birthing practices has revealed a great distrust of God’s design for birth. But then the misuse of technology has a way of disrupting and distorting all things.
Because of my desires to understand evidence-based birth practices, my two preventable c-sections propelled me on a search for truth. And as my mother taught me—all truth is God’s truth.
“Normally and Ecstatically”
I am privileged to know an amazing woman who founded and directs the only independent birthing center in Southeast Michigan. This lovely place happens to be in the same county in which I reside. I only wish it had existed when Scott and I were choosing a caregiver and location for our second birth. But then this woman was not a midwife yet. I met her more than two decades ago as she was embarking on her journey to midwifery. Meet my friend Wendy Pinter.
Wendy is what some might refer to as a real bad ass. She is wicked smart, caring, hard-working, determined and a visionary who puts her ideas to practice. Since I met her in the late `90s, this mother-of-three has gone from doula to midwife to Sailor in the U.S. Navy to founder/director of Nine Short Months Birth and Community Wellness Center in Southfield, Michigan. In my book, in relation to my knowledge of local birthing care, Wendy is the GOAT!
Wendy's gentle charisma is girded in a fierce confidence. This go-getter is equal parts shalom and sass. Here, from the brief bio at the Nine Short Months website, she describes an early insight to her future career:
"I have always loved a birthing! Even as a child, I held vigils at all the births I could for the animals that we cared for at my family’s ‘farm’. Once, I slept for an entire month in the barn, waiting for my mare to give birth to her foal. I finally decided to go into the house for one night of peaceful sleep, and of course, that was the night the mare decided to birth her foal! Little did I know that she was teaching me an important lesson about the value of undisturbed birth.”
This abstract from The Journal of Perinatal Education titled, “Do Not Disturb: The Importance of Privacy in Labor”, echoes Wendy’s sentiment with data to match:
“In nature, when a laboring animal feels threatened or disturbed, the stress hormone catecholamine shuts down labor. Similarly, when a laboring woman does not feel safe or protected or when the progress of her normal labor is altered, catecholamine levels rise and labor slows down or stops.”
The article ends with this powerful yet simple summation:
“When the trappings of medical birth—monitors, intravenous needles, hospital beds, and epidurals—fade away, when women are quietly and patiently encouraged and supported in exquisite privacy by friends, family, and professionals who trust birth and trust each woman's inherent ability to give birth, when women stop being ‘disturbed’ in labor, many more women will give birth normally and ecstatically.”
My friends, Alena and Scott, recently gave birth to their first child at Nine Short Months birthing center with Wendy. I am always overjoyed when first-time parents can experience a no-regrets beautiful birth without the unnecessary bells, whistles and frequent detrimental intervention of medical-management.
"...when women are quietly and patiently encouraged and supported in exquisite privacy by friends, family, and professionals who trust birth and trust each woman's inherent ability to give birth, when women stop being ‘disturbed’ in labor, many more women will give birth normally and ecstatically."
They initially began their pregnancy care with an obstetrician. Says Alena, “For the first five months of my pregnancy Scott and I were planning to give birth at a hospital in Commerce, Michigan. We chose to switch our birth provider because we wanted freedom to make decisions for both me and my child’s health care and not be pressured to follow protocols a hospital would require.”
Alena loved the design and decor of the birth center and the fact she could receive mother- and baby-centered prenatal, birthing and postpartum care all in one place. "We prayed for God to lead us,” says Alena, "and in the end we both knew without a doubt that Nine Short Months was the correct choice for us.”
Transfers are rare, but if necessary, Scott and Alena took comfort in knowing there was a hospital just eight minutes away. Midwives are trained to know when the care needed exceeds their scope of practice.
Alena eagerly reflects on her birth:
“It exceeded all my expectations! My birth team was amazing and made me feel like the center of attention but in a good way! Their main focus was making me feel comfortable, safe and taken care of throughout my labor and delivery. They walked us through each stage of labor and we never once felt like a burden. If I wanted someone in my room at all times that was possible or they would leave us alone if we needed our space. I was able to labor in the birth tub which was amazing and they would add warm water to keep the water at the perfect temperature. They gave me counter pressure, fed me ice chips, held heating pads to my back, assisted me in moving from one position to another, held warm compresses to my perineum during birth to help prevent tearing . . . I could go on and on. After I gave birth to my daughter she was instantly laid on my chest and she stayed there for the next five hours. During that time I was able to start nursing Ariana and her cord remained intact until after I gave birth to my placenta, more than 15 minutes later. My daughter's transition from my womb to the outside world was so peaceful and noninvasive. I truly wish every woman could experience birth this way!”
"After I gave birth to my daughter she was instantly laid on my chest and she stayed there for the next five hours." ~ Alena
Some of the many words Alena uses to describe Wendy: “friendly, personable, attentive, calm, patient, passionate, encouraging and reassuring.” Yep, like I said…she’s the real deal…kind of a BIG deal in my book. Midwives like Wendy are the experts in normal birthing care the world over.
"My daughter's transition from my womb to the outside world was so peaceful and noninvasive." ~ Alena
Scott holding hours-new Ariana at Nine Short Months Birth and Community Wellness Center says,
“When I first saw Ariana born, the love I felt for her was something truly indescribable. I just kept thinking how amazing it was that she was finally here. Ariana was so beautiful and her eyes were so bright. She was so perfect and I couldn’t stop thanking God for this miracle that I knew would change my life forever.”
“Scott and I had a wonderful doula, Aaushi Alaoui, who exceeded all of my expectations! I cannot say enough good things about Aaushi! Before my birth, she was always available to answer any questions I had. During my early labor, she would check on us every few hours either by text or phone call and she even offered to come to my house to help me with anything I needed. At the birth center during my labor she barely left my side. She would apply counter-pressure which helped so much with my back labor. But it was her calm and reassuring presence that I appreciated the most, no matter what was happening in the moment. I was in labor for over 60 hours and I remember at one point I was close to giving birth to my daughter and Aaushi could tell something was wrong so she sent everyone out of the room. I was on the birth stool and she got down in front of me and asked me to tell her my fears. I told her I was afraid of not being strong enough to give birth to my daughter and that I might tear. She knew exactly what to say to release me of those fears and it still amazes me that she knew exactly what I needed in that moment. I cannot thank her enough!
"A doula is a trained professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth to help her achieve the healthiest, most satisfying experience possible." ~ DONA International
All the other midwives and birth attendants were amazing as well and I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for me and my family! Scott and I love our daughter Ariana Marie so much and it is so fun watching her grow. We couldn’t ask for more! God has blessed us so much!"
Thanks Scott and Alena for sharing your beautiful story! Happy Mother's Day, Alena!
“Too Big To Kill”
(For Michigan abortion statistics, click HERE)
Every Saturday morning that we are in town, Scott and I head to a West Bloomfield abortion facility to exercise our First Amendment rights and the privilege of proclaiming the good news of Yeshua the Messiah/Jesus Christ. We are blessed to minister alongside a handful of other sidewalk missionaries with whom we’ve become friends.
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." ~ John 10:10
Last November, my sister-in-the-LORD met a woman who was leaving the abortion facility. She was told that her baby was “too big to kill”. My friend exchanged phone numbers with the mother and texted her to encourage her and offer support.
My friend says, “I didn’t really have much conversation other than praying for her and texting her from time to time to let her know that I’m praying for her and that we want to help meet her needs. She didn’t respond for a while and I kind of forgot...then one day in April she sent me a text letting me know that she was due May 11. I offered to help her get some things through the resource room at our church and to meet her for dinner.”
And then yesterday (May 7), my friend received this text from the mom who left the abortion facility!
Happy Mother’s Day!
"Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man. Later she gave birth to his brother Abel." ~ Genesis 4:1-2
Thanks to my wonderful husband who has helped me become a blessed mother