[Birth Stories] How She Proactively Avoided Having Another Traumatic Birth

After an eye-opening, traumatic, and abusive first birth, Toni DeAztlan-Smith was determined not to repeat the experience. Toni tells Adriana how she proactively took matters into her own hands and ended up having a powerfully healing birth. She also shares how she achieved her goals of being negative for Group B Strep, not developing gestational diabetes, and avoiding preeclampsia. 

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A black-and-white image of Toni's whole family right after she gave birth to her second child

Image description: A black-and-white image of Toni’s whole family together at the birth center right after she gave birth to her second child.


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[Birth Stories] How She Proactively Avoided Having Another Traumatic Birth

Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-to-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and as we continue with our “Nutrition and Nourishment” series, today I’m going to be talking with Toni DeAztlan-Smith about her birth stories that happened 7 years apart. 

Now, we usually try to focus on positive birth stories, but sometimes to get to the positive, birth journeys may start out rocky, difficult and traumatic. If you listened to our “Models and Places of Birth” series— which I truly hope you did— you know that as a culture, we give birth in an imperfect system that has in many instances lost its way from truly supporting and elevating the person giving birth. In some cases it has become abusive, and if you are preparing for birth, you need to understand what you may be getting yourself into. 

Naming it is the first step to changing it. 

Now, the good news is that you do have choices, and that you ARE powerful, so once you determine what kind of experience you’d like to have, and how you’d like to feel, please be proactive. Line up the team and place of birth that will best support you through your experience. Make the team as large as it needs to be to help you get you in the best place – mentally, emotionally and physically, so you can show up at your birth the way you want to. 

I know that there are plenty of things you can’t control during birth, and that there are no guarantees, but no one should have to experience trauma, and being proactive can make a difference. A key part of being proactive is making sure you nourish your body, mind, and spirit so that you are well resourced for what’s to come.

So, back to Toni and her birth stories. Toni says she went into her first birth without doing much research and naively trusting the system, which resulted in an eye opening traumatic experience that took over 6 years to process. And she knew she wasn’t going to go through that again, so during her second pregnancy, she was incredibly proactive in making sure she stacked the deck in her favor. 

Health-wise, Toni had the three goals: being negative for group B strep, not developing gestational diabetes, and avoiding preeclampsia. And thanks to changes in her nutrition and lifestyle, her proactivity paid off, and then some. 

You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition. 

Welcome, Toni.

Adriana: Before we jump right into the stories. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Toni DeAztlan-Smith: Sure. My name is Toni. I’m married. We currently live in the Midwest, but we used to live in Arizona, and that’s where I gave birth. I have a four-month-old (today!) and also a seven-year-old— daughters.

Adriana: Hey, happy four months!

Toni: Yeah! Yay! She slept five hours straight last night.

Adriana: Congratulations! What a good gift.

Toni: Yes, absolutely. 

Adriana: Awesome! So, let’s take you back to when you were first pregnant, what were your feelings around birth and what were you doing to prepare for what was coming?

Toni: So I was pretty naïve about birth. I knew close to zero— just what you see in the movies. I had a very healthy pregnancy. So much so, I kind of ignored my pregnancy and focused on work more than anything. I was still traveling up to my eighth month. I worked up to my due date and I had no issues with the pregnancy at all.

Adriana: Yeah. So what care had you set up? What facility were you giving birth at?

Toni: I was living in New York City and I found an OB. Y’know, I liked her! I didn’t know that… what the experience should be. So, y’know, I had my regular checkups— they were 10 or 15 minutes. I went to my regular ultrasounds and there was nothing in-depth or comprehensive. It was just, “Do you have any questions?” I would say, “No.” And I would come back and check in again, the next time.

Adriana: Mhm. As usual. And then they just get closer, those checks, from every month to every two weeks to every week.

Toni: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And I never Googled anything. I mean, like I said, I was focused on work. I kind of just thought I put all my trust in my OB and I just figured, “Hey, I’m going to hospital. If anyone knows how to do this it’s going to be them. You know, this is how it’s done.” 

Adriana: And so then how did it all begin?

Toni: So I went over my due date and my OB is like, “Well, let’s schedule an induction.” I said, “Sure.” Y’know, of course, she scheduled it for… at a hospital that she would be on call at, or that she was working a shift at, actually. I’m sorry! And so I said, “Perfect. You shall be there anyway. Right?” I walked into the hospital just completely naïve. I don’t even think we brought a proper bag. I had my purse and I thought, y’know, I’d go in and get my induction, get out. And that’s not what happened.

Adriana: So, did she explain the induction process to you at all? Or what was going to happen?

Toni: Yes. In superficial terms, she told me how it went. Y’know, she said, “We will do a Foley bulb induction, and then if it progresses, we will give you medicine to move it forward.” And I guess when you’re hearing those terms for the first time and those instructions for the first time, it doesn’t really… There’s no explanation about how it’s going to affect you or how to prepare for it. Y’know, it was, “This is what’s going to happen in the end.”

Adriana: I’m going to link on the show notes an episode on the induction process that I have with also “Toni”— Golen, different Toni— ’cause there’s a lot more to it than, as you were saying, than just, “This is a Foley bulb and the medicine,” and then it’s going to work.

Toni: Yep. Exactly. Yeah. So I went in and they started, y’know, like I said, Foley bulb, they broke my waters and added the Pitocin, and I basically experienced what I now know as the “cascade of interventions.” And up to a point where my baby was in distress and they were telling me that I would have a C-section.

On top of that though, I was also in a facility in my hospital where I was getting really poor treatment. I was getting abusive almost treatment, no informed consent. procedures were being done on me. Vaginal checks were being done on me. And nobody was talking to me. Nobody acknowledged me. I was forced to labor on my back.

So all these different things that at the time I thought this must be what the hospital’s like, but it was just worse and worse treatment that added to the stress of labor.

Adriana: At any point, were you questioning this and saying, “Hey, no I don’t want to do that!” When you were trying to advocate for yourself, what was the reaction?

Toni: I mean, no, I mean, barely. I would say we didn’t know how to advocate, for my husband was there with me. We didn’t know how to advocate for me. I know when I would bring up certain things, I didn’t know how to speak what I was feeling. And I was in such pain that I was just reacting. And I know that the nurses would get upset with me.

For instance, they tried to put an oxygen mask on my head, and that really freaked me out while I was laboring. So I was wiggling and writhing quite a bit. And I was told that, y’know, “Women get tied down to beds if they don’t sit still,” which was very threatening. And so we kind of were frozen in that moment for hours, my husband and I, just getting this treatment and not knowing how to stop it.

Adriana: And that is so, just so inhumane and horrible, because it isn’t like… I am so sorry you had that abusive treatment and that they were very condescending and not telling you what was being done, doing things without consent, but also telling you lies like this sort of veiled threat of “Women get tied down,” if they don’t do a certain thing, not anymore.

Toni: Yes. Exactly.

Adriana: Maybe during Twilight sleep in the ’20s…

Toni: Exactly.

Adriana: But no! Yeah. I’m so sorry.

Toni: I know, I… that’s why I want to share my story. I mean, it’s awful, but I fear— I mean, I thought the same thing, I thought, “When?!? What decade are we in?” And I just want to make sure other women know that it shouldn’t be that way.

Adriana: So from that point, the induction was happening, things were moving along. They broke your water, Pitocin brought on some really strong contractions. And as you’re saying that it was really painful, did you go for an epidural? What were your options? What happened?

Toni: Yeah, I was laboring really well using… sitting up meditating, and once the contractions got jagged, it actually was once they put the oxygen mask on me and they made me lay down and not labor in different positions, I couldn’t handle them anymore. And I did ask for the epidural. But I was at that point, so overwrought, my body was exhausted. That I can remember. I was like a ragdoll, and they couldn’t even get me to sign the consent form. So someone actually put a pen in my hand and moved my arm around to do kind of a signature for the epidural because I just couldn’t move. I was so floppy with exhaustion.

Adriana: Oh, wow. and this wasn’t your husband moving your hand? It was somebody from the staff?

Toni: Yes. Yeah.

Adriana: Okay. And so then you did get the epidural.

Toni: Yes. I got the epidural. and then so soon after there was a heart rate drop for my daughter. I guess she was distressed, and they said if it doesn’t improve in an hour, that I would be taken in for a C-section and, I think that actually was the point for me, where I felt that I lost complete trust in the hospital and in the medical people that were helping me.

I said, “If I got to do this myself, my gosh,” “These people are not going to help me.” And so I started breathing, doing very deep breathing and meditation and visualization. I had my husband put his hand on my belly and talk kindly to the baby. And I, we breathed together like that until they came and checked, I guess, an hour later?

And I just was watching that monitor to get the heart rate up, y’know, and we did it! And they said, “Well, the heart rate’s up, no C-section.” But honestly that was the point where I was like, “We gotta do this and we gotta get out of this hospital.”

Adriana: And what big, like, horrible circumstances, but having that a-ha moment, how powerful for you, though. Did it feel powerful for you?

Toni: It felt powerful, absolutely felt powerful. I knew that I had to draw in from the power of the universe to get this— and I don’t want to disparage anyone who gets a C-section, but I had lost so much trust at that point that I feared for my life, if I went into the operating room with them.

Adriana: Do you remember at this point how long it’d been since you went into the hospital?

Toni: At that point, I don’t know. Another thing is nobody was giving me any information. Nobody would talk directly to me except to tell me to be quiet and things like that. I didn’t know how many centimeters dilated it was. I didn’t know how many hours had passed too, at certain thresholds, but I know that the total time we were in the hospital was 14 hours. I mean this whole time ’til delivery was 14 hours.

Adriana: Okay. So they weren’t even telling you how dilated you were?

Toni: No. No, they weren’t talking to me.

Adriana: That’s outrageous. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Like I am flabbergasted, because that… it just seems so out of norm. 

Toni: Yeah. And it was out of norm. I wanted to just add that it was out of norm— I can explain that later.

Adriana: Yeah. Let’s… tell me, okay. Let’s, yeah, let’s continue the story, in terms of: you took charge, they were watching, they came back an hour later, her heartbeat was stable, things were good. What happened?

Toni: I don’t know how much time had passed, but I was ready to push. I didn’t know it, they told me that, “You’re ready to push,” because I couldn’t feel anything from the epidural. I couldn’t feel anything to push, so they had to turn it off. I pushed. Not very long— I want to say 15 minutes? Not very long at all. I do remember they were shouting at me to push and I couldn’t. I didn’t understand how to push. Like, I didn’t understand what I should be pushing, in my bottom half, what muscles to use. I was very confused, that’s how naive I was. And so she was born. From the distress, of course, she had the meconium. 

They whisked her away. I mean, they cleaned her up. I got no skin-to-skin and they detected she had a fever, I had a small fever. So they took her to the NICU. 

Adriana: And nobody told you why she was going away.

Toni: No. They told me she had a fever.

Adriana: And then that was the reason why she had to go away. 

Okay, and I’m guessing they were suspecting infection, if both of you had a fever.

Toni: Yes. Yeah.

Adriana: When did you get to see your daughter again?

Toni: Not until the next day, I believe, that I was able to go in and try to nurse. 

Adriana: So what happened during those 24 hours, or that time between when she was born and you got to see her?

Toni: She… y’know, I feel, like, horrible because I don’t know a lot of what happened. I know she was given a dose of antibiotics. She was fed formula. Nobody asked me what my preferences were regarding that at all. And I was in my room, y’know, recovering and filling out paperwork, basically.

Adriana: And this was all done without… Just as a matter of fact, nobody asked you what you wanted to do.

Toni: Yes. Yeah. I didn’t even know I had the option.

Adriana: So when do you want to see her at 24— I keep saying “24”— the next day, when you went to see her, she was at the NICU. She was still at the NICU. So you went to see her, what did they say?

Toni: They said she’s a healthy baby and she does not need to be in the NICU. It was… They released her and of course it takes time to discharge, but that’s it. That was all we were told, y’know.

Adriana: Okay, I want to get a little bit more information of what you were saying about this hospital, that you did… found out later that this wasn’t normal. 

Toni: So what led to me finding out about this hospital, was that after the birth I suffered… I developed anxiety. I mean, severe anxiety, for years. I became a toxic mess and I struggled as a mother. I struggled in my career. I struggled in my marriage. Finally, a friend of mine suggested a therapist, her therapist, and just recommended treatment.

And I reluctantly went and during that therapy during therapy, a couple of months in, I got diagnosed with PTSD from medical trauma. And my therapist informed me that the hospital that I birthed in was actually part of a series of hospitals in Brooklyn that had the highest maternal mortality rate in the country.

And these hospitals were treating women of color in particular poorly. And mothers were dying in them and they were getting shut down and my hospital was shut down.

Adriana: So, I know you sent me a link to the ProPublica data review, or a story on this, and this increase in general in the U.S., the maternity mortality rates and harm for baby are also dismal outcomes, right? But specifically even higher for women of color, with your chances of dying— if you’re a woman of color— are two and three times higher and in some little centers, they can be even higher than that.

Toni: Yeah.

Adriana: So I’m guessing in your hospital, it was higher than that.

And we’ll link on the show notes to the exposé that ProPublica did. So once you found that out, did that make a difference? How did you feel after?

Toni: It made a total difference. I had been blaming myself the whole time and blaming my husband and I realized it wasn’t our fault. We were in a systematic, abusive situation and we weren’t guided by anybody, or given any proper care. And it relieved me. That with my therapy… helped me start on a healing journey. And that’s when I decided to have another baby.

Adriana: How long had it been since… when… between the birth of your first baby, and when you decided to start therapy and had this sort of healing realization that got you to a place where you wanted to have another baby?

Toni: Almost six years.

Adriana: That is a lot to process, Toni.

Toni: And now it’s been a long journey.

Adriana: Yeah. So, walk me through a little bit of your deciding to… six years later, you’re deciding to have another baby. What are you doing differently for this birth?

Toni: So I decided that this birth was going to be in my hands and I was going to do it in my way. And I wasn’t sure what that meant at that moment, but I got pregnant right away. And I had established care at this amazing birthing center in Flagstaff, Arizona. They had preconception counseling and I went for that, and it was my first interaction with a midwife and it just changed my mind about what childbirth could be.

I had no idea that it could be something that empowers you. I thought it was a painful experience that no woman wants to endure, but has to do to have a baby. And I just did a 180 on my attitude after talking with the midwife and I began what I call my “proactive pregnancy journey.”

Adriana: And just the fact that they were having preconception counseling, like, that right there! I wish everybody would. I mean, it’s never too late. It’s one of those things that the information is power and the more you know, whenever— if it’s the day before your birth, that you’re finding things out— then that’ll be helpful than not finding out.

But if you can start informing yourself before becoming pregnant, then that’s even so much more powerful, because nine months is really not that long.

Toni: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And this birthing center, it had a… it was basically a wellness center for women. They had a lot of different classes attached to it. And when you become a client there, you get to do all these different types of classes, and pursue them, should you wish, throughout your pregnancy.

And I mean, I did everything I could. I should say that I was at an “Advanced Maternal Age.” I was 40 years old, and being Latina… so there were risk factors involved, but I wanted an out-of-hospital birth, so I said, “Okay, I know I have to make sure that I am in shape enough that I can do this,” y’know, and I’m not giving myself the option of an epidural by doing the birth here.

So, “What can I do to get ready?” And I just have a long list of things that I did for the pregnancy 

Adriana: Name me some. 

Toni: So I changed my diet completely after taking a nutrition class, including drinking two to four liters of water a day. I hired a doula, of course. Seeing a birth therapist— I switched from my regular therapist to someone who specializes in processing birth trauma and creating a birth plan. I did Bradley childbirth classes. I had acupuncture, I had chiropractic care. Pelvic floor therapy. Spinning Babies. I did cardio walking and prenatal yoga every day. I had prenatal massage. I had a perineal massage. I used coconut oil application daily. Read every book I could get my hands on. Meditation. Supplements and raspberry leaf tea. Squats! I mastered squats. And watching birth videos and listening to podcasts like yours. I mean, I was… it was… it became my second job.

Adriana: I see this and that is so intentional, of especially understanding that it’s a whole mind-body process, it seems. And you were taking care of your mind through your birth therapist and I’m sure, like, having the midwives and the care they were giving you and with your doula and the Bradley classes, and then also taking care of your body with the acupuncture and the chiropractic and the walking and the massage and the perineal and the meditation, like.

You did all the tools, but they’re all so beneficial.

Toni: Absolutely. The only thing I couldn’t fit in my schedule was Hypnobirthing and I kind of wish I had done that. Should’ve pushed myself on that one!

Adriana: Well, I think you were doing quite a bit.

Toni: Thank you.

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah. As the time passed, and you were getting closer to delivery, how were you feeling, doing all these things? Was that building up your confidence? Were you feeling more excited? How was your anxiety?

Toni: My anxiety virtually disappeared. I felt confident. I was building what I didn’t realize until the end… was I was building a support group and I didn’t have that the first time around. But I, at every aspect— from my mental health to my spiritual health, to my physical health— I had women that I could count on for this birth.

And I knew that if I wanted to avoid the hospital, I kind of had these three major tests I had to pass or, or I shouldn’t say “tests to pass,” but my fears were: preeclampsia, gestational diabetes (because I’m Latina and I was overweight), and testing GBS positive. And I kind of made those my, like, goalposts throughout the journey with this proactive pregnancy.

Adriana: Did you avoid all three?

Toni: I avoided all three and I tested GBS positive with my first and was negative with my second. I did not want an IV. I wanted as minimal interventions as possible.

Adriana: Awesome. So what do you think maybe made that specifically… so, I know that, for the preeclampsia and the gestational diabetes, you said you changed your diet completely. Do you think that also helped with the GBS results, or were you doing anything else specifically to address that?

Toni: I think the diet helped tremendously. I was also doing other things. I started taking garlic shots— so raw garlic with lemon— just drinking that down once a day. And with all my supplements and my diet, I think that really helped.

Adriana: So then the day is getting closer. You’re feeling more confident, more empowered. They test you for GBS and it’s negative. You’re not developing preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. So then what happened? How did it all start?

Toni: So I went over my due date, and that was a trigger for me because I knew that if I hit a certain amount of weeks, interventions would begin at 41 weeks. They’d probably do a membrane sweep. I would start getting NSTs daily. So I was doing everything possible to naturally induce! At 40 weeks and five days, I woke up with more than Braxton Hicks, I guess, that’s the way to explain it, ’cause I had been having Braxton Hicks. 

And that morning I woke up and I go, “Oh, these feel a little different.” Right? And I remember we woke up every day after the 39th week, me and my husband would say, “Today would be a good day to have the baby.” 

And I remember we woke up and I said, “Today would be a good day to have a baby. Let’s do it!” So I sat and felt the Braxton Hicks-y-type contractions get a little stronger, and pressure. And I told my husband to take my older daughter and to go hang out somewhere else, ’cause I wanted to basically have early labor alone. I just want it to be in peace. I can’t explain it. I just wanted to be able to feel my body and make sure I knew what was happening. So I sat and watched Netflix and snacked for a couple of hours. Texted my doula team and then, at about 3:00 p.m.— so that was about 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.— I no longer could eat. I basically lost my appetite and my doula texted, “Are you timing the contractions?” because they were getting stronger. And I said, “Oops, no!” My husband came home and he started timing the contractions and they were getting closer and more intense.

Adriana: Which is what you want, yeah.

Toni: Which is what I wanted and I was at… so at peace with it. Every time a contraction came, I would just say, “Here’s one,” so that my husband knew to mark. I would start doing very deep belly breathing. I would brace my arms and just allow myself to kind of go… not limp, but soft. I didn’t want to tense up against the contractions and they progressed and they started getting more ouch-y.

The pressure was getting a little more painful, and my husband suggested I labor in the shower and so I went in the shower and, oh, that was wonderful. So that was probably an hour into what I felt was the progress— so maybe 4 p.m. 

Adriana: Okay.

Toni: I was in the shower. It felt great. I had several contractions in there, where I was bracing myself, telling myself to stay calm again, softening my jaw.

I think that’s what I was trying to stop, and that I read in a book, and just getting through, breathing through each contraction. My husband called the midwife and she was like, “Oh yeah, y’know, we’ll be there in about 45 minutes or so.” And he’s like, “No, I think we need sooner.” And I think— I’m not sure, but I think because, our voices, his voice was so calm— we were so calm that they kind of didn’t think he was immediate. But things were good, progressing really fast. And so he was like, “No, we’ll be there soon.” And my doula came over and I started getting more intense pressure waves. One painful one, one painful one, and then one incredibly painful one.

Right? I was on my knees, in my bedroom. I had my arms braced against the edge of the bed and I just— at the top of each contraction— I literally told myself, “Stay calm, breathe.” And I took it in big deep belly breaths, braced my arms, and just breezed through each contraction.

Adriana: And I love how you’re describing what we call the “labor rhythm”— or your “ritual,” I’m sorry. So the ritual is what we see, that usually each person develops their own ritual at their own, but it’s whatever’s going to get you through the contractions, and you get into this sort of dance of, “Here it comes,” and “This is what I’m going to do,” when “This is what is my coping mechanism is,” and how I’m going to get through it.

And then it’s over, and then we’ll do it again… and do it again. And you kind of keep doing that, until it doesn’t work. And then you vary it, to create something new. But I really appreciate you explaining that, because I find that everybody kind of does their own thing, and it’s not something to worry about, like, if you don’t develop one, but then people around you tend to help you.

Something will come around— like even your husband saying, “Get into the shower and give that a try,” yeah, now those suggestions.

So things are getting more intense. You are definitely working so fantastic with your sensations. And you were saying you were having this wave of like a smaller wave, a smaller one, a big wave, yeah— which is also a super common thing to happen in labor, the first two are like preparation and then that third one is when bigger change happens in the uterus.

Toni: Yes. And the bigger ones I was in my head telling myself, “Don’t panic,” because it would be painful, but… and it was my preparation. Honestly, I remember listening to your interview with Whapio, where you discuss this. I read books where they talked about this, in Mindful Birthing and in my Lamaze books and my Bradley childbirth classes with my doula.

So I had, y’know, I had so much preparation for it that nothing was surprising me in labor, even though I hadn’t gone through that process before really, y’know. So my doula showed up. She was doing the counter (back) pressure, lower back, which was great. My husband was getting packed up to go to the birthing center.

He was also minding my seven-year-old, in the other room, in her bedroom playing the whole time. And my doula, she suggested, “Why don’t you go labor on the toilet?” because that was something I had said I wanted to try. I’ve heard such good things about it and I went in, I went straight into the bathroom and I sat on the lid of the toilet and lounged on it.

Basically, it felt so good to labor on it. I kind of was… I was bracing my perineum on the top of the toilet lid, I guess, kind of just rubbing through the contractions? I don’t know if that makes sense? I liken it to, like, when a dog rubs themselves across a carpet, you know what I mean?

Adriana: Okay, yeah.

Toni: I was… I mean, I don’t know if that’s too much information, but that’s what I was doing and it felt really good.

Adriana: Well, and I find nothing’s too much information if it, like— because this is birth, it’s its own thing. So whatever works for you is great, but giving yourself the permission to even, y’know, move however in this way that you wouldn’t necessarily normally do, because we don’t necessarily rub our butts like dogs.

Toni: Yes.

Adriana: But if that was working and it was feeling good, then, yes, absolutely!

Toni: I know, I know it’s terrible to say, but it really did feel good. So I just want to let other moms have that permission to do that too. And I guess I was moaning quite a bit and my doula could tell, y’know, that I was getting close. So she knocked on the door, “Let’s go to the birthing center.”

And they got me into the car and it was about a ten-minute ride to the birthing center. And this is where I think my story is a little different from a lot of other birth stories I’ve heard, because I loved my car ride. It was so soothing. I had the window down, air was hitting my face. I had one hand on the dashboard, one holding that bar over the window and I was doing the leg rub thing against the seat.

And I was just swaying, like, hard swaying through each contraction and still telling myself to stay calm and breathe. And there were like washes of color behind my eyes that were just soothing me. So the air, the washes of color, at one point I felt like I was on an airplane or a train just like flying, traveling.

And when we got to the birth center, I was kind of like, “Aw, we’re here already?” like, I kind of wanted just to drive as long as I could.

Adriana: You were deep in your Laborland!

Toni: I was deep in Laborland, I think so.

Adriana: Yeah. And those hormones were doing great work. Oh, so good. And you too, of course.

Toni: No, of course not. And so, one of the midwives and the nurse met me in the parking lot, and I remember I hesitated to get out of the car, of course, ’cause I was so happy in it and she just said, “Do you want to get in the tub?” And I was just like, “Yes!” And I just got up and shot up and they helped me across the parking lot.

I, y’know, I had, I think, two contractions through the parking lot. So you can tell it’s getting really close. They were getting on top of each other, the contractions. Once we were in the birthing center, things got a little chaotic and I think it’s because I was so close and they don’t usually have moms come in that close to delivery.

But I went straight to the toilet ’cause that was the place in my head that was the most comforting. And the nurse had to kind of get me out and ’cause… and I kept saying, “Oh, I need to… I need to poop.” I kept saying that, y’know, I kept saying that, and they were trying to get the heart rate using the Doppler, the handoff. And I guess the heart rate was a little low. So the nurse tried to put an oxygen mask on me, but my eyes were closed. I didn’t know it was coming. And it triggered a response where I just shook my head and kind of batted at her, like a little kid, just… I didn’t know, but I was really fighting her off.

Adriana: You should see my face right now. When you said that she was coming at you with an oxygen mask, ’cause I immediately went, “Oh, no.”

Toni: Well, this is where you should smile, because thank God for doulas! My doula, who knew my birth plan, where that was the trigger that was mentioned, grabbed it and said, “I’ll just hold it.” And she just held it in front of my face, not touching my face and that, and my anxiety dropped back down. I was back in Laborland.

Like, she prevented me from totally losing it in that moment. It was incredible. So the tub, I guess, filled up while I was on the bed. They had me on the bed and I— one of the interventions I wanted to avoid was vaginal checks. So in my head, I think I was scared that they were gonna, y’know, open my legs up and give me a check.

So I kept my legs/my knees together, and I kind of was rolling back and forth in the bed, just because I didn’t want to give anyone an opportunity. I guess it was very instinctual.

So I think the midwife got that I wasn’t gonna let her check me. No one said anything. It wasn’t spoken, but somebody said, “Oh, the tub is full. Do you want to get in?” And I, again, jumped up and just went for it. Like I went from writhing in pain to up, going, and got myself right in the tub. And the second that I can remember walking into the tub— they call it “liquid epidural,” that’s what it felt like. It felt like, as the warm water inched up my legs to my waist, it was just this incredible comforting feeling. I just felt so good. It was amazing. 

So I got in the tub— I was in a squat position on my knee, so not really a squat, but my bottom half was kind of open, I guess, in the way I had learned to squat— and I was holding onto the side rails and I kept saying, the whole time I was telling them, “I need to poop!”

So, the midwives finally said, “Hey, y’know, just bear down, when you feel it again, bear down.” And I could feel it coming on. And one thing I think I was confused about at that moment is it was so much pressure, between, like, my perineum area, that I thought that it was gonna… I was confused about where the baby was going to come out of at one point, because I didn’t realize that the pressure would be so strong in closer to my butt and not so much in my vaginal area.

And I said, “Oh my gosh, y’know, I don’t think I can do this,” because I thought they’d be… it’s very irrational, really, because we all know where they’re going to come out of, but for a moment, I was not sure where the baby was going to come out of because of the pressure. So… and of course she went down, and that’s just her going down the birth canal.

And I bear down 1-2-3, and then I could feel her head coming out. And then there was a couple of breaths and pauses, and I did another push and I just felt her whole body slide out of me. I could feel it as if it was my hands touching her, going out of me. I could feel the contours of her body. It was amazing.

And the midwife caught her and she handed her up to me and my husband was on the other side of the tub. My seven-year-old was right behind him. They were looking at me and I held my baby and I just had a shot of that oxytocin high. I just started laughing. I was just giddy. And my husband said that I looked like on a game show, the sweepstakes winners, how… the exaggerated excited face they make when they win the prize. He said I looked just like that, like I just won the best prize and I had my daughter on my chest there in the tub. And I just said, “I did it. I can’t believe I did it!”

Adriana: Ah, that’s a lovely story. All that preparation, you brought it all together. Because I think when we allow ourselves to be that present in this intense, intense situation, and really connecting with the body and are undisturbed, right? Because you were in that tub alone, like nobody was trying to touch your perineum around that time, or focus on her head, or very much directing your pushing, or it was just you going deep and connecting with it, then you get to do these things, like feel the outlines of her body coming out of you.

Toni: Absolutely. And no ring of fire. It was amazing.

Adriana: That is amazing. And every experience is so different, right? But it can be. So I think that’s what gives me the most passion, is knowing the possibilities of what it can be.

Toni: Absolutely. So I guess I should finish up. I got out of the tub to birth the placenta and at the birth center, they have a nice big wide bed. And so my seven year old got to sit next to him, while I had skin-to-skin with the baby and she got to ask questions. She watched the placenta get birthed, and it was amazing.

I just felt so proud that my daughter could be there to see the experience. And she has now a baseline understanding of what giving birth can be. And I was just really grateful that the midwives allowed us so much time. We kept the cord going until it drained. We were given another hour after the golden hour for my husband to hold her before they started checking the baby.

It was incredible.

Adriana:  And what a gift to your daughter, to be able to witness this type of birth.

Toni: Yeah, absolutely. And her babysitter came right after that to pick her up and take her to dinner, but I just thought, “I’m so glad that the babysitter couldn’t make it earlier,” because that gave my daughter the opportunity to be there. And I should say that, from the time we arrived at the birth center to when the baby came out, it was 27 minutes.

Adriana: Whoa. It almost took longer to tell it, then— this is like a real life play-by-play.

Toni: Yes, it was that fast. So for those that are worried about my seven year old hanging out for hours— she was not, she was just playing with some toys and then suddenly she was watching me give birth.

Adriana: What does she say about the experience?

Toni: Well, I mean to her right now, as a child, she sees blood and “blood means bad,” but she has an understanding of what a hospital birth is and what it— I don’t like saying “natural,” but, y’know, unmedicated/physiological birth— is. She basically knows, like, there’s differences and she knows also that the treatment that you get, that it should be a situation where there’s kindness and comfort and people are supporting you.

And I think that that’s a good baseline. We can talk more about it when she’s a teenager and as she grows to be a woman, but I think that’s a good basis.

Adriana: Yeah. And she’ll always have that memory!

Toni: Yes.

Adriana: Is there anything, before we wrap up, that you wanted to make sure we get to that we haven’t mentioned?

Toni: I guess I would just say that having… putting in all that effort and taking all that time and focus on my pregnancy, so that I could have the birth that I wanted, it’s not just a vanity thing. I think for a while, I got worried that it was something that I wanted to do just for myself, but it was so empowering that it’s helped me in my— as a mother, it’s made me a much more gentle mother and, this time around with the infancy, everything feels more intentional.

I’m more mindful, even with my seven year old. And so I just think if more women, more mothers, had this knowledge and could be as purposeful and proactive in their pregnancies and births, I think it would create a ripple effect in how we raise our children. So I’m just so glad that I got my second chance.

Adriana: Oh, absolutely. It’s not a vanity thing. It’s you… like you’re saying, you’ve… you parent better when you have a better birth experience. And if we think about to your… how you met your first daughter and how that started and all the anxiety and mental state where you were at that point, it’s so hard to, with all of that going on inside you, also be mindfully parenting.

Toni: Yes, exactly.

Adriana: Yeah, it is huge. Absolutely. Thank you for saying that because I’m a hundred percent in agreement with you. How is your husband feeling about all this?

Toni: Well, he hasn’t outright said it. It’s come out in snippets, but I am… We think that he suffered some post-traumatic stress from the first birth also. And this was a really healing journey for him too. He went to every single appointment with the midwives. He was at all the childbirth classes with me— well, Bradley method requires a partner.

He did all the research with me. He read The Birth Partner, which… to help me get through labor. He was 100% my partner in this. And it, I should say it’s not just the parenting— our relationship is better because of it. We’re such a good team.

Adriana: Oh, and that’s awesome that he also decided to go in for that full transformation after having the first experience.

Toni: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one thing we learned is that, y’know, you need the oxytocin for everything, to get everything going: the birth, the breastfeeding. And I just see him as, y’know, my source of oxytocin. I mean, it’s just… it emphasizes the need for love.

Adriana: Mhm. How’s this postpartum experience gone? We didn’t talk about if you breastfed your first daughter, and how that experience went, but how is it going?

Toni: So, I am… I’m also being very proactive in my postpartum. So I made sure I had support. I had all the products I would need for my body. I had friends come visit, make sure we had the, y’know, the meals. My mom. I have a therapist who focuses on postpartum depression. I’m reading some books. I do postpartum Pilates and I’m going to postpartum group. Whether or not you feel like you have postpartum depression, I think going to a group, having somewhere, a touchstone, y’know, once a month or once a week to talk to other moms, I think is really important, to prevent, y’know, feelings of isolation.

Adriana: Hugely. So because it’s postpartum, it’s weird. It’s such a unique characteristic of your… It can be so isolating, and at the same time, you’re never alone.

Toni: Yes.

Adriana: But yeah, having that connection with some adults that are going through the same experience. Yeah, hugely important.

Toni: Yeah. And I think that… I still struggled. Y’know, having a newborn is hard and the sleep deprivation is hard!

The breastfeeding is going really well. So with my first, it was very difficult to start. I think we missed that window where the baby can get the breastmilk started with the cluster feeding. We didn’t have that and we struggled.

Adriana: Right, because you didn’t get to even initiate breastfeeding until like the next day.

Toni: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. And she had already been fed formula at that point and they were giving her these big two ounce formula bottles with the big nipples, so she was chugging formula basically. And then she would… she really had no interest in trying to get the breasts going. So that was a struggle.

So I… we mostly did formula and I did my best to breastfeed, but it was really… She was mostly formula fed. With this baby, I got to start right off. I felt the whole second day cluster feed, which was very painful— not the nipples, but y’know, the breastmilk coming in and the no sleep for, y’know, almost two days.

And now I mostly breastfeed her. She is supplemented, mostly because I needed a break to sleep. And so I don’t pump; the pumping is a trigger for me from my first, when I was struggling so hard. I was always on my pump, and it became a trigger for me, so I don’t pump. The noise of the machine, more.

So she has mostly breastfed, with supplementing with formula so that… so Mom can sleep. And I think I wanted to say something about that, is that I think there’s so much pressure on moms that it becomes a trigger point for anxiety in postpartum. And I had that, like, “You have to breastfeed.” And I just want to say that you get your choice of about one or the other, and everything in-between.

And that’s what I did. I told my midwife, I told my birth therapist, I don’t want that anxiety. So I am going to go be okay with whatever I can do. I’m going to try, and I’m going to do my best, but, like, the pump I don’t want to do, so I’m not going to.

Adriana: Well, and it has to be sustainable, whatever you’re doing. And if it’s draining you, I can understand really wanting to do it and trying to do all the things to do it. And y’know, some people struggle for months and then finally it clicks. And I can also understand having circumstances that create a situation that makes it so much harder to come back, which means you kind of have to readjust expectations and not guilt yourself into, “I didn’t do this.” And I think it’s really healthy to have clear boundaries, like you’re saying now, “I will do this, but I can’t do the pump.”

Toni: I think, yeah.

Adriana: “How can I make it work?” “What is going to work for me?”

Toni: Absolutely. I think, like childbirth, breastfeeding is another topic that we don’t get informed about during our life. So it kind of comes on suddenly, and there’s not a lot of spectrum given. I see a little bit more with lactation consultants, but I know with my daughter, it was a “breastfeed or nothing” kind of sentiment, with my first daughter, and that’s hard. It’s so hard to suddenly get hit with this expectation, not having any information beforehand.

Adriana: And usually the expectation with breastfeeding is, “Oh, it’s just going to work.” And there is so much to it.

Toni: So much.

Adriana: Yeah. I mean, if you were just a primal being that was with your child 24 hours a day, and were not giving birth in a— like, if we went full on physiology-biology on it, yeah, it would work, because you would do things very differently.

Toni: Yes, exactly. Our whole culture and lifestyle would have to change for that.

Adriana: Yeah.

Toni: I will say one thing I did in my pregnancy that I think helps with breastfeeding: I would put coconut oil on my breasts every day during my pregnancy, and in my breastfeeding, I have not had any, like, cracking or nipple pain. And I don’t know if it helped, but that’s something that I did to prepare for breastfeeding.

Adriana: I think it’s one of those things that “may help, can’t hurt,” y’know, in terms of your skin— like, that’s just nourishing your skin. But if baby doesn’t have a good latch, there’s no coconut oil that’s going to avoid blisters, you know what I mean? 

Toni: Oh, absolutely.

Adriana: Yeah. 

Toni: Yes. And I was lucky that I had a great lactation consultant, who’s also part of the birthing center and she showed me to watch for the signs of a bad latch. And so I kind of was able to work with the baby to get her to open nice and wide and get a good latch.

Adriana: Awesome. Well, congratulations, right, on all your preparation paying off and having such a healing… having the healing birth that you wanted, that you worked so hard for. And thank you for wanting to share it!

Toni: Well, thank you so much for letting me share it.

That was assistant professor of practice in digital media production and mother of two, Toni DeAztlan Smith. You can find Toni on twitter @tdeaztlan

And you can connect with us on Instagram @birthfulpodcast.

In fact, if you are not driving, it would be lovely if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan. 

Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you so much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Goodpods, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen. 

Come back for more ways to inform your intuition. 


Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories] How She Proactively Avoided Having Another Traumatic Birth.” Birthful, Birthful. June 22, 2022. Birthful.com.


Toni DeAztlan-Smith, a Latina woman with brown skin and black hair, pulled back, is wearing a necklace with a chunky pendant and a black blazer, and smiles sagely, gazing at the camera

Image description: Toni DeAztlan-Smith, a Latina woman with brown skin and black hair, pulled back, is wearing a necklace with a chunky pendant and a black blazer, and smiles sagely, gazing at the camera

About Toni DeAztlan-Smith

Toni DeAztlan-Smith is the mother of two girls. She is an assistant professor of practice in digital media production at a university in the Midwest, and the director of their Digital Media Production Center. Her storytelling chops were honed at UT Austin’s Radio-Television-Film program and at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Before motherhood, Toni was a television producer for a major network in New York City.

Plus, she’s a fellow podcast lover! Check out her work on Make Your Story podcast (Episode 1: Elements of a Narrative Podcast) and The Pod Class podcast.

Connect with Toni on Twitter @tdeaztlan



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