Birth story: Gideon Apollo Bright

Is my birth story too profane? Not sweet enough, pretty enough, too subversive? It is MINE and I want to SHARE IT!

The shingles medication brought an uncanny order to the last week of my pregnancy: antivirals every 4 hours (I set an alarm); steroids at a diminishing dose tapering off over six days; pain meds as needed. Chocolates infused with marijuana. Rescue remedy. Flowers on the bedside table. My sister arrived from California and moved into the playroom with my nearly three-year-old daughter Matilde, who had spent about a week in that room with her daddy. As my pain made me seem scary to her she had stopped asking to nurse for the first time in her life. At our forty week appointment with our midwife, she checked my shingles lesions - they were on my butt cheek and at least on my labia - she wanted to see if there were more in my vagina. “They’re healing well but there are these two areas that really need to crust over and heal before labor.” 

I dreaded the idea of staying pregnant another week, though I knew it would be physiologically feasible and possibly healthier for the baby. The 10 days or so I’d been sick already had me feeling capable of anything but also under great stress and bedrest was incredibly difficult. That night after Matilde went to sleep I stayed up with Annie and Austin. Noticing them both gazing at their phones I left the living room in a huff, turned off the lights in the bedroom and put on my hypnobirthing affirmations track. I had been listening to it quite a lot during the third trimester but even more often with the shingles. In the midst of the deep relaxation, right around midnight as it became March 31, I felt the warm flood of my amniotic fluid seep. 

At first I weighed whether or not to tell my partner, Austin. I had been reading a book about unassisted birth and I was sure it was too soon to call the midwife but I quickly opted to share the news with my partner. Contractions intensified and I was excited even with a little trepidation. Throughout the pregnancy I had checked in with myself: am I worried about the extra fluid on his kidney? No. Should we have an extra ultrasound? No. One round of iron sucrose infusions prescribed because of anemia had boosted my energy and when nobody remembered to retest my iron numbers I was not concerned. After my water broke and labor kicked in, I was certain that all the affirmations on my recording and hanging on our walls were right: we were a perfect team. I was strong. I could birth beautifully. 

Aust and I snuggled and I felt sexy and strong. We stayed in the dark bedroom mostly, though I also labored in the bathroom where I’d made my birth altar, set up lots of LED candles, hung the aforementioned affirmation pennants, my pregnancy weeks countdown from my midwife. I’d told Austin it was okay for him to try and get some more sleep until around 3:00 when I woke him up and told him it was time to call the midwife. I was sure that this was good and active labor and didn’t necessarily need anyone to confirm, but I wanted her to be with us. I also wrote a message to Zoe, who was planning to come and take photos. I didn’t want to wake her up just in case it ended up being a long haul, but I imagined that whenever she woke up in the morning she could check in with us and see whether we were ready for her to come over as well.

Midwives Debbie and Rachel were with us by 4:00 am, giving me the talk that I had expected from them. If we went to the hospital they would offer a cesarean. That would be the lowest risk for the baby, considering the shingles. Though there is literature on primary herpes zoster infection and labor there’s not much known about how the lesions could affect a baby, let alone with something as specific as the location of my outbreak. They offered to do a speculum exam to check out whether there were any shingles lesions on my cervix, which could give us more information if I was considering the choice of hospital and/or surgical birth, but I declined; firstly because of the agony I imagined the exam would entail but secondly and more importantly due to my certainty that I was going to give birth at home… soon.

“Okay then, let’s get this going.” Debbie said. 

“It was going before you got here and said all this stuff to me!” I said, agreeing to use a topical Hibi-Clens rinse vaginally and to take the cotton root bark tincture she wanted me to take: three doses, fifteen minutes apart. The doses felt back to back and I could hardly believe how time was flying as I labored alone in the dark bathroom. I had put on the Juana Molina album “Halo,” and it was psychedelic, just what I needed. The beats are heavy, the melodies unpredictable, the Spanish lyrics easy for me to either tune into or drift from - all of it supporting trance. Debbie checked in on the baby’s heart tones occasionally, but the most memorable moment from her was a shout from the living room, “sounds good in there, Gwen!” I reminded myself to send my sounds low, energy down and out. The most primal of my doula-words came to me at all the right times.

With the onset of each contraction I was saying SHIT, FUCK or GOD. “Ooooooh shit! SHIT SHIT SHIT….” “FUCK FUCK FUCK.” “Oooooooh God…” After the fact I pointed out how funny it is to have encompassed everything that drives us with those three exclamations. When the consensus was that I was sounding pushy, we all convened in the bedroom. Rachel got Austin set up with a rebozo around his neck so I could pull on the ends as I pushed. I leaned on him in a squat. I sat on the birth stool. I pushed on hands and knees and then eventually asked Austin to sit behind me, thinking I could push out the baby with both of us having a similar viewpoint. 

While I pushed that way, Zoe arrived. I felt her golden energy and a new sparkle came into my vision of how things would proceed. She set up a tripod and began taking the most amazing photos. Out came Gideon’s head - the blobby plopping feeling so surreal. I could feel he was trying to turn his head, to rotate, and I’m told he was also trying to cry while still on the perineum. I had a break between contractions. I wanted to flip over but could not imagine how. Rachel flipped me over (Austin says it was like jiu jitsu) and at 8:33 out came my beautiful son, who’d had a triple nuchal cord - oh, that cord! I had no idea until I worked with the placenta two days later but the cord was one of the longest I’ve ever seen. 

Annie and Matilde came in but only stayed for a minute at first. I pushed out the placenta and everyone got me, the baby and the bed cleaned up and in order. Along with a beautiful breakfast for me, Annie and Matilde came back in for a longer visit and to see Gideon’s newborn exam. The bliss was unimpeded and it felt magnificent to be surrounded by loving support and then to have each layer of professional/friends peel away leaving our little nuclear family and the blessing of my sister. I did it! We did it! My strong, big, healthy boy was here on the last day of March: Gideon Apollo!    


Journey to Becoming a Midwife

I’m on the path to becoming a midwife and consider myself still very much an apprentice. The first birth I ever attended was my nephew’s when I was 16 years old. My sister had a long, difficult birth that involved a cascade of interventions that she had not at all understood. My nephew was delivered with a shoulder dystocia that resulted in a serious birth injury from which he still suffers today. This is not when I felt the call to midwifery. Instead it left me terrified of birth. 


A decade and a half later I attended a prenatal yoga teacher training and it was there that I learned about the physiology and importance of birth and just how different an experience it can be. For years I worked as a crisis hotline volunteer for our local sexual assault resource agency and at the time I was taking psychology courses at UVA with a view to pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. In that prenatal yoga training it became clear to me that the confluence of my interests were calling me to midwifery and that my passion for counseling would continue to blossom on this new path.  

As I was seeking the right route and program for me, I learned about a school in West Virginia and considered moving there to study. By some turn of fate and good fortune, within months of my seeking it out,  the school’s founder happened to move to Charlottesville and started a school in 2014. I was among the first cohort of students. That same year I met my doula partners in that setting, joined Bright Birthing and continued to learn from and assist at out-of-hospital births.

Much of what I’ve said so far has more to do with my journey than my reasons for why I am a rising midwife. I want to be a midwife because birth is on a continuum with sexuality and I believe that a woman’s sexual experiences are sacred and matter deeply to her sense of self and to her well-being. As a result of my own personal sexual experiences in life and my education, I have come to care strongly about sexuality, respect and consent. There is a lot of mystery in birth and a lot at stake. Women are both at their most vulnerable and most powerful during the transformational passage into new motherhood. I consider it the highest privilege and honor to learn the art of how to listen, how to respectfully inform, and how to help a woman safely navigate that mystery.

Locals we love: Dianne Bearinger

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Each time I adjusted to the transformation of becoming a mother to a new little person I was so lucky to have the support of the great teacher, spiritual guide and postpartum doula Dianne Bearinger. This weekend will wrap up my fourth trimester and we had our final postpartum doula visit with Dianne last week so this feels like the right time to compose a more formal message of gratitude and endorsement than the little note card I jotted for her personally.

Dianne holds circles for women exploring crucial and deep questions through storytelling. She reflects and writes as introspective practices. She tutors children and leads parents to trust their own instincts through not only postpartum doula support but also parent-child classes that bridge from babyhood through toddlerhood into childhood.

It certainly put my partner’s mind at ease knowing that we had Dianne’s visits in the weeks when he first went back to work after each baby’s birth. In the past couple of months she was with us two mornings a week and on those days (at least) my partner knew he could be at the office on time as she helped out so he could escape!

Since Dianne was our postpartum doula after my eldest was born they’ve had a really beautiful relationship - I am not sure whether my daughter would put it this way, but I think of Dianne sort of like a fairy godmother. When Matilde was a newborn Dianne set me up with wonderful arrangements of pillows to literally hold me up while I figured out nursing with my tiny mighty baby. This time around often when Dianne came she spent one-on-one time with Matilde so I could focus on our new baby. Together with my daughter, Dianne baked bread, folded and put away laundry, took care of all our dishes, kept our fridge in tidy order and always left me feeling more confident than when she’d arrived.

Locals we love: midwife Debbie Wong

One of my first friends in Charlottesville, a professional mentor, a remarkable craftsperson, adventurer, scientist, world traveler and exemplary midwife: Debbie Wong (of Nine Moons Midwifery) supported me in personal transformation, healing and creating my family.

If that sounds heroic it's because that's how I think of Debbie. She keeps a notable poker face when it's serving to do so, and when I ask for advice she offers it with love and no bullshit. My partner said a while ago, "I really like how Debbie can tell you things I wish I could but with her you never get defensive." For me she was the perfect care provider, holding space for my fears to surface and then sublimate.

Debbie has a tastefully appointed, sunny office that's a pleasure to visit, and she makes some client visits at home. My daughter was excited every time we saw Debbie for care during my second pregnancy and she was sweetly integrated into the team listening to the baby's heart, measuring my fundal height and massaging my belly. It felt like such a perfect circle to watch my nearly three year old help Debbie with the newborn exam after my son was born at home.

A tremendous gift Debbie offers to childbearing people in Charlottesville is meeting us where we are. She consults with other practitioners in town who may be simultaneously caring for clients; she works as a birth and postpartum doula in addition to her home birth midwifery practice. Debbie teams with wonderful assistants and collaborates seamlessly. In our case what that looked like was a planned home birth with our first, a transfer to UVA for the birth, which she attended; then, all of our care through my second pregnancy including home birth and first rate postpartum care for the baby and me. I trust Debbie deeply and will live my life in gratitude for the encouragement and authentic empowerment she instilled in my process of becoming a mother.

Locals we love: photographer and doula Zoe Krylova

I met Zoe at a housewarming potluck with a bonfire soon after we moved from the Bay Area, where she'd also once lived. As I settled into Charlottesville and the birth community here I got to know Zoe as a poet, a mother who shares her stories openly and richly, an artist, and someone whose presence always shines golden light. It was an honor to have her with us for both Matilde's and Gideon's births and after she visited us this week I just had to break my blog hiatus to share some praise.

Zoe Krylova (Windflower Doula) was quite literally the doula of my dreams. When I was pregnant with my first child I got up the nerve to let her know that I’d thought for years about her as my ideal doula and it was a pleasure to go through the other side of the doula-client relationship (prenatal appointments getting to know one another on a deeper level; practicing birth support positions with my partner guided by Zoe; checking in when things were difficult along the way) with someone I had long admired. She was with us for the epic weekend when my daughter was born and she took photos we will always treasure.

In March I had my second baby and I sent a message to Zoe in the middle of the night, after my labor had begun. This time she was going to join us to take photos in a less formal role than that of doula, and I knew the time commitment would be significantly less since honestly I’d been reading about unassisted birth and wanted to wait until pretty well into labor before having even our midwife join us. Zoe saw my message when she woke up in the morning, called my partner and zoomed to our place as I was pushing. When she came into the room I absolutely lit up - her energy is warm, balancing, peaceful, confident and so strong. She set up her tripod and took incredible photos. I could not more highly recommend her as a doula and/or photographer!

Storytime Success!

Thanks to the dozens of you who joined us for Storytime at Sweethaus over the past four weeks! Gwen and Sara had so much fun reading fabulous books and seeing so many adults and kiddos enjoying the treats that Sweethaus has to offer. It was a special bonus to have the gigantic Sweethaus Christmas tree up for the last two weeks and we're excited about hosting more storytime someday. 

When the new year rolls around we hope to see you at other local storytimes including all the great offerings at Jefferson Madison Regional Library branches, New Dominion Bookshop and elsewhere. 


Bluegrass Grill: Bright Spot #4

One of our family favorite’s is Bluegrass Grill, just a block off the Downtown Mall.  We seem to all get the craving at the same time.  Our five year old will wander into the bedroom and ask to head over there for breakfast.  Most of the time, we agree and probably find ourselves there once every couple weeks.  

We all love the kids’ play area and try to sit as close as possible.  My two year old makes phone calls and dumps out toys from the little red toy box.  My older son searches for dino toys and draws pictures.  Together, they cook up all sorts of delights in the little wooden kitchen, complete with stainless pots and pans, pancakes, and even pats of butter!  My husband and I REALLY appreciate that there are plenty of things for the littles to get into without being too disruptive.  

Although there is not a separate kids’ menu, there are lots of menu items suitable for your sweet wee ones.  For under $5, you could piece together a picky-eater breakfast from the a la carte menu or set them up with pancakes, granola, or oatmeal.  UNLESS, your too-smart-for-your-own-good five year old wises up to the fact that the Hungry Norman IS the most delicious breakfast possible and starts requesting the $12 parent pleaser in place of his usual short stack of honey-wheat pancakes.  Of course, adults can enjoy a solid variety of menu options, including vegan, vegetarian, and GF-friendly picks.  Currently, I’m totally stuck on P3-a mouth-watering mess of home fries, chorizo, peppers, and cheddar, so good!  

We have found the BGG (our family name for our beloved fave breakfast spot) to be easy to get into most weekdays.  Weekends are a totally different story.  If you get there past the initial opening time   (and sometimes even then) plan to wait a while before a table becomes available.  There seems to be a bit of confusion around how waiting works.  I must say, we don’t do the waiting thing.  If there is a wait, we go straight to plan B.  However, I BELIEVE the wait list is on the wall and folks add their own names to the list and seat themselves when space becomes available.  

The BGG only takes cash or check, so be sure to prepare ahead of time, or you’ll be walking over to the mall to find an ATM to pay for your meal!

It isn’t always clear to me whether the staff is as happy to have us around as we are to be there.  I’ve decided to chalk it up to them being busy and the actual fact that kids in restaurants can be potentially disastrous for everyone involved.  Generally, the service is good enough, even if no one is smiling at us or gushing about how cute my kid’s drawings are.  


My biggest complaint is the ginormous pile of seasonings, condiments, and decor in the middle of each table, no matter how tiny.  There is the small vase with a single flower, the libations menu (good to know in case your trip really goes down hill!), salt & pepper, a variety of sweeteners, three types of jellies, a dish of single-serve margarine cups, two types of hot sauces, and I don’t even know what else!  This is like a gold mine of mischief for my children and ends up getting scooted to every corner of the table multiple times before we leave.  Exhausting.  

I can’t recall if there is a changing table in the bathroom because i never actually go in there.  I don’t know why my husband and I haven’t actually started to plan for this phenomenon, but EVERY time we go pretty much, my two year old has a massive bowel movement AND we leave the diaper bag in the car.  So….the kid gets changed in the back of the car and I cannot report on the presence or absence of a changing table.  Maybe if you take your diaper bag in with you, you can find out and let us know!  

Overall, the BGG feels fun and easy for our crew!  We love the food, our kids are entertained, and we feel like the prices are reasonable.  It is a bright spot that we look forward to pretty often and love to share with visiting friends and family.  And they have chocolate covered bacon.  Bloody Mary’s, a play kitchen, and chocolate covered bacon.  Winning!

Splendora's: Bright Spot #3

My daughter was largely built of gelato. While I was pregnant and for her first few months out of the womb we were living on the downtown mall and during that time Splendora's became my favorite local business. It was where I went to celebrate by myself the day I legally changed my name. It was where Matilde received one of her first nicknames (thanks to GM Kelly), and when Splendy's owner PK announced their amazing Pint Club - an awesome, exclusive flavor creation every month - I was all about it. Next time she's enrolling you should definitely sign up. Each month we receive an email detailing the inspiration and process of flavor creation and when we pick up our pint there's a free scoop of any flavor or a coffee included.

I've been to Splendora's dozens of times for a caffeine fix, to use their changing table, to buy bananas, to speak to another adult... so many reasons. Now that my daughter is in love with gelato it is a pleasure to share tiny spoonfuls together as we people-watch. They have comic books, coloring books, crayons and colored pencils! I am constantly entertained by the social media presence they keep (follow them both on Instagram and Facebook for serious farmers' market love, PK's adorable dog Gypsy and the shop's resident grabber-dino!), I admire and appreciate how they support other local businesses, I resonate with their politics, I have fun with their holiday decorations and PK's creativity, I am always impressed by the staff and I have never met a flavor of their gelato I didn't dig... even the weird ones.  

Pro-tip: Members of the Virginia Discovery Museum get a free bambino cone with any purchase (i.e. latte for you).

Indoors at Ix: Bright Spot(s) #2

The Ix Art Park is basically my favorite place in Charlottesville. The fundraising for the art park coincided with my first year here and I remember looking at the plans and feeling so grateful that a community space like that could arise in this small town. Over the past five years I have only fallen deeper in love with the murals, sculptures, events and businesses that have blossomed there. My kiddo adores the free ranging she can do in the outdoor portion of Ix and our family made it to nearly all of the Free Fall concert series Saturday evenings this year, but this post is really about three excellent indoor spots to enjoy Ix during the cold months ahead.

Brazos Tacos recently celebrated the first anniversary of the changing table in one of their Either/Or bathrooms, deserving of kudos on several fronts. Other than the changing table, there’s a stack of kids’ books for borrowing, and wee toddler-sized table with chairs in primary colors. Their guac and creamy black beans were some of my daughter’s first solid foods and it just so happens - since we used to live within walking distance - that Brazos was the first place I nursed in public. Their kids’ menu is sweet, simple and to the point, but there are also endless delicious possibilities for adults including margaritas. Coming from California, “queso,” was not part of my Mexican food experience before this setting, but I can hardly go there without ordering it now, I love it that much. I’ve come around on Tex Mex. Pro tip: order ahead via their website or by calling the Taco Phone to avoid the lunch rush line!

Sweethaus is a bit controversial as its sugary goodness may not be everyone’s idea of a healthy snack, but they always have gluten-free options and I swear I order carrot cake there just because there’s a vegetable. For many months I got away with going there to play and have a coffee without even purchasing a cupcake, but my wee one is now in love with them and I can hardly blame her. A mini cupcake for around $1 and a decaf Americano for mama is totally worth it for their adorable play area, whether your kiddo is crawling or running around. We don’t have stairs in our apartment and Matilde enjoys practicing climbing up and down to the cute lofted sitting area, where I’ve also attended a lovely gathering of mamas who all peered down on our kiddos happily playing below. Head’s up: a dozen or two mixed mini cupcakes will impress folks at any gathering.

Three Notch’d is a recent addition to the Ix space and the build-out is remarkable. The night we were there for dinner there were several parties including balloons and lots of revelry - while the noise level was above my comfort zone, my kiddo had so much fun playing in their kids’ area where there were crayons, books, toys galore and lots of playmates. The children’s menu hummus platter served us as an appetizer (since Matilde was mainly into playing rather than eating) and they could stand to have smaller spoons if they’re going to serve apple sauce to toddlers, but we would happily go back...if friends invited us!