Laurel Gourrier, co-host of the podcast “Birth Stories in Color,” reflects on how her birth experience–even though it was long and hard–often felt like a big party. She tells Adriana Lozada that her family’s support, and her constant communicating her wishes, created a safe and joyful space for her to give birth.
What joyful plans did you make for your pregnancy and postpartum? Tell us all about it @birthfulpodcast on Instagram!
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Related Birthful episodes:
- Straight Talk about the Effects of Electronic Fetal Monitoring on You and Your Baby
- Why Your Due Date Is Also an Intervention
- All About Inductions
- The Induction Process
- Pleasure in Birth
- Big Babies and Shoulder Dystocia
- The Birth Stories in Color website
- Listen to the episode The Heart Work of Birth, where Adriana shares her birth story!
- Birth Stories in Color – A Community of Support for Black Birth Stories post, Lamaze “Giving Birth with Confidence” blog
One thing you can do for you is to create a clear and collaborative support plan with all the members of your birth team. Schedule a time to have an honest conversation about what you would like and expect from them during your labor and birth, and get specific. Touch upon the ways they can show up for you physically, emotionally, and in advocacy. Can they commit to that? And if not, what is your plan B?
Also, your health care providers are also part of your birth team, so what would this conversation look like with them? How does it feel to switch the perspective to one where they are there to support you, and not just to make sure everyone is healthy or to tell you what to do?
Then the one thing you can do for the rest of us is commit to finding your joy, in community. This feels like something we all need to be more intentional about, as we languish from the sustained stressors of a year and a half in a pandemic. So, connect with a friend or family member and plan to do something joyful on a regular basis. For example, you can join the Girl Trek movement, which unites members of the Black community as they walk for healing. Whatever it is, find something that brings you happiness, and creates a sense of connection.
[Birth Stories] What a Hospital Community Birth Can Look Like
Welcome to Birthful, I’m Adriana Lozada.
Laurel Gourrier: I remember my husband, I’m leaning over the bed, I’m hanging on to him. And he kind of just looks me in my eyes and he’s like, “Let’s shut out everybody else. What do you want to do?”
Adriana Lozada: That is Laurel Gourrier, the co-host of the Birth Stories in Color Podcast and mom of two, talking about a pivotal moment in her first birth and how her husband held the space and uplifted her autonomy, so that she could center her needs after 30 hours of hard, Pitocin, back labor. His support, along with that of all her extended family and caregivers allowed Laurel to hold onto her joy throughout the experience. And from the beginning, holding onto that joy had been a key part of Laurel’s birth plan. Also, to be honest, at many points, her labor seemed like a big party. You’re listening to Birthful, here to inform your intuition. Welcome Laurel to the show. I am so very excited to have you here and hear your story. Why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
Gourrier: Yes. Well thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here. I love to travel. So I’ve been lots of places, have lived lots of places. I am a mom of two. I have a five-year-old daughter, three-year-old son. I’m also a wife. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio. I do birth work, full spectrum. However you land, whatever your support is, I am there to help you, help guide you, help support you. I love birth storytelling, in all shapes and forms. So I also host First Storytelling Podcasts with a doula sister and friend. And then I recently have started doing birth photography, the way that birth shows up.
Lozada: Well and let’s make sure we mention the name of your podcast.
Lozada: Birth Stories in Color., which I’m going to let everybody know, I shared my birth story, that I don’t often share on Birth Stories in Color, so you can check out that episode as well, if you want to hear. So take us back. Your daughter is now, you told me before, that she’s five. Take us back to that time when you were just pregnant or figuring out what you wanted for your birth wishes. What were you hoping to have and how did you prepare?
Gourrier: Yeah, so in the beginning, when we first found out we were pregnant, both my husband and I really felt like everybody’s comments to us were centered on the pain aspect of birth, on the negative parts of birth. And I remember one day, we were both sitting around and I was like, “I don’t know. I’m loving this. I’m very excited about this. And I just don’t feel like what I’m feeling is matching what everybody is telling me. I know those things will show up, but it just, they’re not sinking.” So from there, we really were intentional about how we talked about the experience, how we absorbed what others were saying. And I just knew from the beginning that I know that I want this birth to be centered in peace and joy, and I really want to connect with this birth and be very in tuned to it. And so that’s what I did. I set intentions about that. I read everything that I could get my hands on. I was obsessed with watching birth videos on YouTube, just trying to grasp any sort of positive outlook about the birth experience.
Lozada: So how did it all begin? How did that party start?
Gourrier: Yeah. So I was 41 and 5 days, 41 and 5. I had midwives at the hospital. I had contemplated home birth, but we lived in an apartment and I was like, “I don’t know how people do that. That’s different. So let’s just do a hospital with midwives.” So I found a great midwifery practice. And around 40 weeks, there was discussions about, “Okay, what are we going to do to help naturally bring on things?” And baby girl was just not about coming. I tried all the things and I do remember getting close to 41 weeks. My midwife was like, “Well, why don’t we try doing a membrane sweep?” And I was like, “Okay, fine.” Did that, and that was the moment where I really was like, “Yeah, I don’t actually know anything about the anatomy of my body.” I just remember being like, “Where are you going during this cervical…”
Lozada: Where are these membranes you’re going to sweep?
Gourrier: Yeah, where are these membranes? But, we did find out that I was one centimeter, but we did decide from that point on that I should probably be scheduled for an induction, which that wasn’t what I wanted. But I also knew that we were moving into a space that it was probably time to support her coming with some help. And I, again, from that point started to get into a mindset of like, “What do I want this induction to look like?” So she was scheduled, like I said, I was 41 and 5, scheduled induction. My parents came in, we were living in DC at the time. So my parents came in that morning. I was scheduled to go in that night. My in-laws had come in the day before. And I remember my husband had to go to work that morning. So I was at the house by myself. I took a long shower and I remember just sitting on the couch and being like, “Wow, tonight, everything changes.” And just able to kind of sit in my own reflection about what was going to happen, trying to prepare myself mentally for what this induction might look like. And then my parents came over and I remember my dad be like, “We should have champagne before we go to the hospital.” And I’m like, “Dad.”
Lozada: He was ready to party.
Gourrier: He was ready to party. I’m like, “Dad. No.” So we all drive to the hospital. And I had also informed my best friend that we were going in that night. So she was coming in from New York on the train and they had said, “Oh, come at 8:00 PM. You’ll be ready at 8:00 PM.” So I get there and they’re like, “We don’t have any rooms.” And then I felt myself kind of shut down at that point, because I was very prepared for you’re going to go in, it’s going to be time, everything going in order. So, that did take some shifting, and I remember being really upset also because two of the midwives who were on call were two of the midwives who I hadn’t met. So I just felt like, “Oh no, things are already starting to derail here. This is not okay.” But we sat in the hallway while we waited and played cards. And my family did a really good job of keeping me distracted and really trying to center me back in. This is just part of how things shift. It’s okay. Finally get my room, I think it was an hour, hour and a half. We go in, get me set up and they started me with Cervidil and I remember my midwife saying, “We’ll see how this goes. Sometimes some people’s bodies react very quickly to it. And some people, after the full 12 hours of waiting, nothing.” I was one of those people who, nothing. So 12 hours go by, my parents were staying at a hotel, so they went back. My in-laws and my best friend went back to our house, because we also had a dog at the time. I was just chilling, for the full 12 hours.
Lozada: And I want people to hear that because you think, “Oh, inductions, we’ll just get going with this.” And actually if you’re jump starting your body from zero, it can take a long time. It can take days, and also the fact that you’re having an induction, there’s so much uncertainty attached to it anyways. There’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of mental game with the inductions.
Gourrier: Yes. And I do think that kind of happened for all of us. And it was nice to have that time when everybody had left for Frankie and I, to again, get ourselves in a headspace of this might take some time and that’s okay. This birth plan has shifted already a couple of ways. How are we going to roll with that?
Lozada: So how did you roll with that?
Gourrier: 12 hours hit. They did the cervical check, no change. And I felt myself freak out a little bit because I also knew from there, we were going to have to introduce Pitocin, which I knew was going to intensify things. And it was something that I hoping not to have. My midwife definitely onto that, because I remember her being like, “We don’t have to start it right now. Eat some pizza.” Because my father-in-law had bought pizza for the nurses, for everybody. So everybody was eating pizza. And I will say that my midwives were wonderful. I had an amazing birth team. I’m very, very fortunate and grateful that it worked out in that way. They were just so in tune with my family. We had five people in a room. We weren’t supposed to have five people, but they were like, “Whatever.” They just rolled with you-
Lozada: You do you.
Gourrier: … which was so wonderful. But yes, we started the Pitocin and immediately my body was like, “Oh, okay, this is what we’re doing.”
Lozada: And I want to say, even though your cervix hadn’t dilated, there must have been some change in those 12 hours for them to move from a prostaglandin to soften and ripen and get your cervix ready, to Pitocin, which is focused on dilation. So your cervix did change, we just obsess on dilation, but there’s still many other things that… and often people have to ask about them because it’s not just… We all, nurses, everybody focuses just on the dilation and as a birth worker, I’m sure you’ve had this situation where I asked the provider, “Can you tell me also about station and softening and give me more information. Don’t just give me dilation.”
Gourrier: Right. Exactly. So things started to get pretty intense. I know that I was trying to move around the room because I was now on Pitocin, I was having to be monitored. And I just remember, I hated the monitors. I know a lot of people say that and they were just annoying. So there was this back and forth of getting repositioned on the monitor, having the monitor off, walking to the bathroom, working through contractions. It was just this cycle. But I will say again, my birth team was great. I think a lot of times people are very surprised that I had my in-laws and my parents and I want to say that there was a conversation that was had with all of them about what it would look like. I was very open of, “If you’re going to be in that space, I need your energy to match mine. If you are unable to help or support or you feel like it’s too much, I need you to leave, because I can not have that. I need you to be on the same page as me. I will be naked. So you handle that as you like. I want you to be present, but this is what I’m expecting for your presence.” And they all understood that.
Lozada: I love that.
Gourrier: But it was intense. And I had a lot of back labor. So I don’t even really remember what front contractions feel like. All of my pain and discomfort was in my back. And I tried to describe it to somebody once. And I was like, “It felt like after every contraction, my spine was breaking and then reforming for one second and then re-breaking. This is exhausting.” And a new nurse came in and they were like, “Well, why don’t you try nitrous oxide?” Because my birth plan did not include having an epidural. I wanted to go as long as possible without one. So I was like, “Sure, yeah, I will do anything at this point. Let’s try the nitrous oxide first.” I hated the nitrous oxide. The first moment of putting it on my face. I was like, “This is making me feel like I’m going to throw up. I don’t want to do this. Let’s not do this.” But I’m also at this point starting to have those shakes, the transitional shakes. I’m throwing up a bit more. I’m starting to have that feeling of I’m out of control in this moment. But that was also the moment where I was like, “Okay, this feels excruciating, and something has to change.” My new nurse had come in and they asked like, “What do you want to do in this moment? And I remember my husband, I’m leaning over the bed, I’m hanging on to him. And he kind of just looks me in my eyes, and he’s like, “Let’s shut out everybody else. What do you want to do?” And he’s crying, I’m crying, but we’re just looking. And at that moment, he was very much like, “I know what your birth plan said, but, what do you need in this moment?” And I said at that point, “Okay, I think it’s time to move forward with an epidural.” And at that point it had been about 30 hours since starting the induction that I had been moving through. I was just tired. I was exhausted. And I think everybody knew at that point that I needed something to just let my body settle. But they were of course waiting for me to come to that realization without being pushy, which I appreciated, but I also, I think needed for him to tap in and be like, “It’s you, that’s it. Nobody else, it’s you.” So I got the epidural placed and immediately knocked out. I think I was asleep before they could even see if it fully took. I don’t even know. But I do remember before falling asleep, my husband, because he had… Everybody kind of had been up, but mostly him. He looks at me and he goes, “Is it okay if I go to sleep too?”
Lozada: Aw, that’s so sweet.
Gourrier: I think everybody got some rest and I woke up maybe an hour or two after, refreshed. I’m like, “Hi everyone. We’re here.” The midwives came in and said, “How do you feel about us doing a check, kind of seeing where you are?” And I was like, “Sure, let’s do that.” And they did a check and they were like, “It’s time. If you’re feeling some of those urges, that pressure, let’s go for it.”
Lozada: Were you feeling the desire to push?
Gourrier: I wouldn’t say I wasn’t feeling the desire to push, but I definitely, I would say that they did a fair job on my epidural, because at that point, I could still feel the pressure, not necessarily any type of pain, but I could feel the pressure during contractions, so I knew when they were coming. So I was like, “Yeah, let’s go for it.” And I just remember giggling like, “Wow, okay, we’re doing this.” And so they got me a mirror because I definitely wanted to be able to see. And so my husband’s holding my left leg. My mother-in-law is holding my right leg. My dad’s sitting behind me. My father-in-law’s kind of off to the side and my mom is holding both of my sisters on FaceTime. So again, party, community birth here. And so we start pushing. Something that I don’t remember and that I have been told, but there was a point where I was pushing and they kind of had me stopped. And in that moment, I didn’t pick up on any of this, but my daughter did have shoulder dystocia. So the way that it has been told to me is during that moment, they were actually pushing down on my stomach. She came out. We did not know if we were having a boy or girl, we love surprises, so we were very much like, “Let’s just see when this baby is born.” And so we had said that I would be the one to kind of let the room know. So they pulled her up, put her on my chest and I just remember crying, “It’s like girl. It’s a little girl.” So everybody’s crying. She’s sitting on my chest. They let her sit there for a second and then took her because of the shoulder dystocia, just to make sure that everything was okay, but she was fine. She was beautiful. She was fine. 8 pounds, 9 ounces. They made sure she was good and then brought her back over to me and we just hung out.
Lozada: So good. So good. What was the most surprising thing for you out of this experience.
Gourrier: That I birthed a whole human. I think that, in all honesty, that really did blow my mind. But I was able to tap into this other source of myself that I had no idea was possible. Even with how, because it was painful, I’m very honest with people about that experience. That birth was painful and that birth did take a lot from me. I still feel the same joy. I just feel joyous about it because I know that I did that. My body did that. And I’m so proud about that. An 8 pound, 9 ounce, whole human, I birthed.
Lozada: You sure did. And we wanted to focus on your first birth, the birth of your daughter, but you have a son and that was a home birth. What made you switch from hospital to home?
Gourrier: We moved to a new state and in moving to Columbus, Ohio, I learned about what childbirth was around here. And I was like, “I don’t feel comfortable being in a hospital. I don’t think that I’m going to get the same experience that I had at the other hospital. And that just doesn’t feel safe for me.” And I also have learned a lot more in between that time about maternal outcomes and especially what that looked like for black mothers. And I didn’t feel like that would be a safe choice. I had also at that point connected with a home birth midwife who I loved. So I knew that I would be able to get the support I needed. And I also knew from my previous birth, that home birth just felt more in sync for me. So we moved to Columbus where my husband teaches, it’s as an hour outside of Columbus. And I also knew that if I did a home birth there, if at any point there was a need for a transfer, it would be at a hospital that I wasn’t comfortable with. So I said, “All right, let’s see if my parents will be okay with us having a home birth at their home.” So there was this other layer of informing them that this was an option. For them, it was about safety. They didn’t know home births were a thing. They were like, “Is this going to be safe?” And I’m like, “For us, it’s safer for us. It makes sense for us.” And so they got to be a part of all my midwifery appointments. They got to see that in real action. And they got to witness a home birth because again, I think I just have community births, everybody’s just there. That’s how I roll. And so they got to be a part of that.
Lozada: But that’s so good because it’s a lot of responsibility, let’s be honest. When you say I’m going to have a home birth, you have to take on a different role in how you approach your birth, which is totally doable, but you just have to be honest with yourself. And I feel it’s fantastic that you had that support and that community and that support from your whole community and your parents. And because people who have a home birth, you hear so often that they’re getting so much pushback from their family and they almost have to keep it a secret from their family. And it is so joyous to hear the flip side of something completely different of community buy-in into your choices.
Gourrier: Exactly. Exactly. And then for the people… there were some people who we just didn’t share it with because we knew there was going to be that pushback. And I was like, “I don’t need that.” And again, having honest conversations with my parents about this. I was like, “You are at any point allowed to say no.” So I think them hearing me talk about fear, allowing them to express their fear around it, made it easier for them to be like, “Okay, this feels like we can do this.”
Lozada: Do you feel that the fact that they were part of your journey in the first birth, they were such an integral part and you had already had that conversation way back of, “This is how you show up for me in this space.” That work was already done. And then now you just switched where the space… you took it to a next level. You’re like, “Okay, now let’s do this.”
Gourrier: Exactly. And so I would send them like, “Okay, you watch this birth video. This is what it might look like.” I started giving them things to read. And then at my appointments, they were then able to talk to my midwife and be able to see and have those conversations. Whereas in the hospital, you don’t get to do that. They don’t get to see that other side. And I think the reason that community birth is so important to me, is one, because I need my community. I very much thrive off of that. I also know the change that it can have. My siblings were also present. And so now, as they’re talking about expanding their families, they’re like, “Okay, well, how do we prepare for a home birth? How do we know if that’s an option?” So that there is this continued conversation of, there’s so many different types of births, you just have to do what feels right for you.
Lozada: Thank you Laurel so much for sharing your stories and for sharing what an interdependent community way of birthing can look like, whether it’s in the hospital or at home. That was Laurel Gourrier, a wife, mother of two, and a family and reproductive justice advocate. Alongside Daniel Jackson, Laurel, co-hosts the Birth Stories in Color Podcast, which embraces storytelling as a way to amplify the lived experiences of black, indigenous, Asian, LatinX, and multi-racial individuals. You can find Laurel on Instagram @birthstoriesincolor. As I reflect on Laurel’s story, one thing that stands out is the intentionality with which she set up her big community support. So one thing you can do for you is to create a clear and collaborative support plan, with all the members of your birth team. You can start by scheduling a time to have an honest conversation about what you would like and expect from them during your labor and birth, and really get specific, touch upon the ways they can show up for you physically, emotionally, and in advocacy.
Lozada: Can they commit to that plan? And if not, what’s your plan B? Also, your healthcare providers are a part of your birth team. So what would this conversation look like with them? How does it feel for you to switch the perspective to one where they are there to support you and not just make sure everybody is healthy or to tell you what to do? How does that feel? Then the one thing you can do for the rest of us, is to commit to finding your joy in community. This really feels like something we all need to be more intentional about as we languish from the sustained stressors of being in a pandemic for over a year and a half. So connect with a friend or family member and plan to do something joyful on a regular basis. So for example, you can join the Girl Trek Movement, which unites members of the black community as they walk for healing, and more information on that can be found at girltrek.org. Whatever it is you end up doing, find something that brings you happiness and creates a sense of connection. And if you’d like to connect more with us at Birthful, we’re on Instagram @birthfulpodcast. To learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes, go to birthful.com. Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of LWC Studios. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien is executive editor, Cedric Wilson is our lead producer, Kojin Tashiro is our associate sound designer and Stephen Colon, mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts, Goodpods, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories] What a Hospital Community Birth Can Look Like.” Birthful, LWC Studios, September 15, 2021. Birthful.com.
About Laurel Gourrier
Laurel is a reproductive justice and family advocate. With a master’s degree in Special Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Laurel began her journey of supporting families as a special education teacher/family advocate, specifically serving Autistic children. The birth of her first child led her to begin her work as a doula. Laurel provides families with information and tools to help them feel empowered by their own birthing experiences, as well as holding space as an ally to birth inclusivity through a reproductive justice lens. The core value of uplifting autonomy is the root of her practice.
She currently supports families in Columbus, Ohio as a birth/postpartum doula and co-host of the podcast Birth Stories in Color (BSiC). She and her co-host Danielle, were led to create a platform honoring the art of storytelling and the voices of families of color.
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