Content And Community For Black Moms

After two traumatic birth experiences, this pediatrician advocated for (and got) an empowered home birth experience.

pregnant woman in pink dress holding belly
Photo credit: Unsplash

mater mea is committed to sharing empowering birth stories to uplift and support Black moms and birthing people, given our high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Pediatrician Jalan Burton, 36, and her husband Ori had planned to have a home birth long before the pandemic began. After two traumatic births and a miscarriage, they wanted to make sure their daughter Omisa’s birth was as low stress as possible.

Omisa was born March 31, and they got their wish—the birth, Jalan says, was “absolutely magical.” Jalan shares her story here.

pregnant Black woman in green dress holding belly

Confronting My Birth Trauma

I really like to know who’s going to be there—I don’t know too many people who can just have a random on-call person and be comfortable. 

My first birth was in a hospital. I didn’t feel supported by the labor and delivery nurse, and there were some arguments with my midwife and doula. 

My second birth was at home. I worked with a practice of six on-call midwives, but I ended up getting the one that I didn’t vibe with. She was just really, really anxious and my doula was very powerful; their energy together was not good and it affected my birth experience.

So with the third birth, I needed to know who my birth team was going to be. Homebirth can be very expensive. In this area it can be upward of $5,000, not including the cost of a birth assistant, doula, and supplies. Thankfully, as a small-business owner, I could barter taking care of a midwife’s family, and she’d do my birth.

My therapist suggested doing a conference call with my birth team, which we did when I was 36 weeks. 

I worked with a supportive obstetrician early in my pregnancy and continued to alternate in-office visits with her and in-home visits with my midwife. I am considered low-risk and healthy, but I wanted to have both my obstetrician and midwife confirm it would be appropriate for me to still have a home birth.

I also worked with a postpartum therapist to deal with some of the birth trauma that I had from my first and second births. I read every book about postpartum trauma and postpartum adjustment, and preparing for birth. I continued to eat well. I meditated. I exercised. I had support at home and in my business. 

My therapist suggested doing a conference call with my birth team, which we did when I was 36 weeks. 

“Everybody who you want to be at your birth needs to be on this conference call, and I will facilitate it because I want you to be heard,” she said. “Jalan and Ori, what is your vision for your birth?”

Both of us wanted it to be calm and peaceful because we felt like there was a little too much anxiety at the first and second deliveries. 

She wanted me to explain what I didn’t like in the previous birth so that everyone could hear it together and ask me questions. 

I had too many cervical checks with the first two births and they made me nervous. I knew I didn’t want to be induced again. I had to be induced with Cervidil, which ripens your cervix. Your contractions get really intense, really quickly. I knew my cervix would do what it was intended to do when it was ready. 

“This is my last birth,” I said. “I want this to happen on its own.” 

This is my last baby, and damn it, it’s going to be what I want it to be! 

I also didn’t want to know about any outside problems, like if the birth pool flooded or something like that. 

“Just put on some good tunes for me,” I said. “Just make sure that it smells good; give me my lavender oil. Make sure the lights are down. Make sure I have something to eat and drink…” 

It was overall a principles, philosophy, and vision phone call. Then she had each person talk about the ways they were going to help—my midwife, my doula, my mother-in-law, my husband… It was nice for everybody to be able to speak up. It helped me feel empowered because it was preparing me for my birth. If I had delivered at the hospital, there’s no way I would’ve had a conference call!

My doula called two weeks later and was like, “Let’s talk about COVID.”

“I don’t want to talk about COVID!”

“No, we need to talk,” she said, “because you’ve got a lot of people on this birth team that you want to be here. Is that safe for you? Is that safe for the baby?” 

We phased people in, and phased people out. We took my mother-in-law off of the “during birth” list. The midwife was going to have two additional people with her, but we decided they shouldn’t come. 

I knew every single woman that was there. I personally chose them, which I know is a place of privilege that so many women don’t have, but this is my last baby, and damn it, it’s going to be what I want it to be! 

A pregnant Jalan with her eldest son.

Netflix and Baby

On a Monday evening, I got this burst of energy: I was like, I need to wash my hair, I need to curl my hair, I need to do this… 

“It’s 11 o’clock, what are you talking about?” my husband asked. “I’m about to go to sleep after we finish watching this Netflix episode.” (It was probably some kind of cooking show. Or maybe I was watching Insecure… it was either a cooking show or Insecure.)

I washed my hair and I was having these contractions. I had been having them for a week; they would just come in waves. I had had acupuncture a few days before and the acupuncturist told me to take Epsom salt baths. So I’m like, “Ooh, I’m about to get in the bathtub.”

Girl, It’s 12 o’clock, what are you doing? 

‘Babe, I’m having really intense contractions.’

I get into the bathtub, and I’m like, Wait. These contractions… I can’t talk through them. I probably should go get my husband.

“Babe, I can’t breathe. I can’t talk.” 

“What?” 

“Babe, I’m having really intense contractions.” At that point I’m vocalizing. I’m moaning, groaning.

“You’re going to wake up the boys, let’s go in the basement.” (He was sleeping in the basement at the time because I was snoring so bad.)

We get the baby monitors on and I’m thinking, What if the other kids wake up, what are we going to do? So I told Ori, “Call my mom.”

He’s like, “No, I can handle it,” and I’m like, “Dude, no you can’t.”

So my dad brings my mom over. She comes in and we’re trying to figure out the contraction calculator. I was like, “Y’all! I don’t wanna know! Y’all need to figure this out. Just let me do my thing.”

At that point, I was in labor. My mom got there at 2 or 3 in the morning. My dad came at 7:30 to pick up the boys. Labor contractions were like 11 minutes, 10 minutes, 7 minutes… nothing regular, but they were intense.

Omisa Lights Up The Room

We started talking to the doula virtually, and she said, “You guys need to get her up. She needs to do some stairs.”

As soon as I started, the contractions picked up—5 minutes, 6 minutes, 4 minutes. 

She called again and said, “Tell her to start doing laps.”

My husband made me breakfast—smoothie, eggs, and biscuits—and every lap I would take, he would feed me. By that time my contractions were 3 minutes apart, and intense. The midwife was on speaker phone. I didn’t know this at the time, but she was at another delivery that same morning. 

The midwife says, “I want to talk to Jalan,” and I’m like “Ahhhhh! Ooooh! Ahhhhh!” 

My husband said my voice literally dropped several octaves because the baby had dropped. I was like [deep voice] “The baby’s going to come!”

“The midwife’s not here,” he said. “What are we going to do?” 

“I’m on my way,” she said. “I’ll be there soon.”

At that point, it was just the three of us. Everyone was on the way.

“Y’all,” I said. “I need to go in the basement, I need to be in the birth pool.”

My husband wanted to warm up the pool before I went in, but I was like, “Dude, this baby is coming out. I need the birth pool right now.”

We go downstairs, I strip off my clothes, I’m in the birth pool. I need to push, and my mom and my husband are behind me freaking out. They didn’t let me see them freaking out, but they were like, “Oh my God, she’s about to push, there’s no midwife, there’s no doula, there’s no birth attendant…” At that point, it was just the three of us. Everyone was on the way. Because of COVID, everybody was trying to minimize the time that they were there. 

I’m in the birth pool, saying “I need to push, I need to push, I need to push.” And they’re freaking out, “Don’t push, don’t push, don’t push!” And I’m like “I’m about to push this baby out, y’all.”

I heard the door. My husband got up to answer it, and I screamed, “NO! DON’T LEAVE ME! STAY RIGHT HERE!

“If this baby comes out and you are not here, I am not going to be happy,” I said, weeping. 

With our second birth, the midwife had sent him to the store to get me an Ambien because she didn’t think I was going to have the baby. So my husband was not home when I delivered our second baby, and I knew I could not tolerate that again.

So my mom goes, unlocks the door, and the midwife comes downstairs. 

“Jennifer,” I said, “I need to push this baby out.”

“OK, girl, let me just change my clothes, go ahead, push her out!”

No vaginal exams, no nothing, she just went off my vibe because she knows me very well. She changed her clothes, washed her hands, and sat on the side of the birth pool.

… when I was actively pushing, I was looking in the pool and saw these beautiful lights.

“Come on, girl, push this baby out.”

“Oooh, Jennifer, this hurts,” I said. 

I was feeling that ring of fire, all the pain. 

“Well, it is not going to not be painful until you push her out,” Jennifer said, “so I need you to breathe and push her out.”

So I pushed the baby out. It was just wonderful. I had little Christmas lights underneath the birth pool liner, so when I was actively pushing, I was looking in the pool and saw these beautiful lights. It was just magical, thank you to Pinterest for that. 

She was born en caul. My water never broke, so when she came out, she was wrapped in this shroud. We’re all looking like, “What are we supposed to do?”

Jennifer said, “Pull her out,” and I was like “What you mean? Nah, I’m not pulling her out!” All medical reasoning had just gone from my brain. 

But I pulled her out and she was just a beautiful little person with a head full of hair and it was just a really magical and powerful experience. And then 10 minutes later, the birth assistant and the doula arrived.

She was born on March 31, 2020 at 11:49 a.m. I remember the time because I kept telling everybody that I was going to eat lunch on my own. “I’m not going to be pregnant at lunch time.”

My husband was like, “You’ve said this 400 times,” but I literally pushed her out before lunch and ate the delicious lunch that my mother-in-law prepared.

Want to share your empowered birth story? Email info [at] matermea [dot] com with the subject line “Birth Story”

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Tomi Akitunde is the founder of mater mea.

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