Note From The Editor
I had the pleasure of not only meeting Nicole back in 2014, but I had the honor of training in person to become a Doula under her instruction in Opelousas, Louisiana. I owe the foundation of my birth work journey and the impact I've been able to make in this work to Nicole's expertise, and to her consistent willingness to assist me whenever I've reached out to her over the years. Her willingness to sit down with me for this interview is a testament to her heart for this work and for the Black Birth Workers coming behind her. Nicole is rare in that she is southern, she is a hospital practiced and trained nurse Midwife, but her philosophy and understanding of birth mirrors those in the homebirth community. Nicole has a unique perspective and insight that I admire and appreciate deeply. As a highly sought after birth work influencer who has been featured in Essence Magazine, I am so grateful to her for making time to bless my readership and viewership with the wisdom that are her words. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Shayla Brown; Woman. Wife. Mother. Doula. Educator. Advocate.
Black Birth Stories; Why We Need Them
“I always think it’s important to share birth stories–particularly a gamut of birth stories because…black people are not one-sided in our birth experiences.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole further elaborates:
“Right now…we have two things happening:
- We have a lot of people who are having traumatic births and we need them to tell their birth stories so that people can hear the truth of what’s possible so that they can prepare themselves appropriately.
- And then we also have some beautiful, loving [births]; like my birth was ecstatic; I had a beautiful birth experience and so I think it’s important for me to share my birth experience so that I can let people know it don’t have to be full of trauma; and you can birth beautifully and you can have a life-changing, metaphysical experience that just blows your mind and shifts–literally–who you are.”
“Sometimes…if there was trauma…just sharing the story…brings about that initial healing; and so we have to share our stories so we can heal. When we hold that stuff inside, it becomes toxic for us.”Nicole Deggins, Sista Midwife Productions
Because she understands the necessity of telling Black Birth Stories, Nicole co-produces "The Birth Story Project"; a local effort between Sista Midwife Productions and High Heel Productions held annually in New Orleans. The effort has paused due to COVID, but will resume some time in the fall of 2021, at the request of previous attendees.
Birth In Nicole’s Family
“In my family, I have asked repeatedly; my aunts…my mother before she passed…about my birth and my brother’s birth and it’s like there wasn’t a lot of attention paid to the birth…’I mean, I just went to the hospital and had the baby,’ that’s pretty much all they say.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole talks in more detail about birth in her family at the start time of the video below.
While the details of birth were mostly not discussed in Nicole's family, at a very young age, Nicole witnessed her first birth. At 9 years old, Nicole was privileged to serve her aunt as a doula while her little cousin, who is now 40; was being born. Because her aunt was living with Nicole and her mother, when the hospital sent Nicole's aunt home because her labor had not progressed enough, Nicole got to witness birth firsthand.
“I don’t even know how I woke up or how I got involved, I just remember…I was in the living room with them; my aunt was…moaning and groaning and my mama was like, ‘Nikki, go get water; go get the towel’ and…I just have this snapshot of a moment where I was with my aunt, and with my mother doing all of the things that we do.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
When Nicole was tasked with holding her newborn baby cousin in the backseat of the car on the women's ride home, she recalls when the mystery of birth was revealed to her.
“Because [my aunt] did not do everything in secret;…go in the hospital [and] come out with a baby; cause I was able to witness that labor, I was able to make that connection that all of that pain…transpired into my little cousin.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
HEAR Nicole nostalgically share her first experience with birth at the start time of the video below.
Nicole’s Experience With Loss
During our interview, Nicole shares her 2nd birth story which ended early at 24 weeks. You can hear her account of that birth at the start of the video below.
Nicole’s Ecstatic Birth
“I was so excited to be pregnant.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
“I was 42. She was a baby who was deeply, deeply, deeply desired…it was just a beautiful experience.”
Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
“She actually is a rainbow baby…and she is nothing but rainbows…and glitter all the time.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Highlights From Nicole’s Birth
- Planned a homebirth with a midwife
- Still prepared for a hospital birth by attending 4 prenatal appointments with a nurse midwife at a hospital as “back-up” and to establish a midwife of record at a hospital.
- Her nurse-midwife was paired with a physician who was not from the U.S. and who had laxed views on natural birth and who was not afraid of the supposed risks of “advanced maternal age” pregnancy and birth.
- Water broke at 35 weeks at midnight. Because she had seen 35 week babies “not do well”, she opted to check into the hospital. Though Nicole was devastated, she submitted her original plans to what she felt she had to do and adds, “I’m not afraid the of the system. I think the system can be a safety net for all of us if we know how to utilize it.”
- Nicole established her standards of care at the very beginning of her hospital stay. Upon entry, Nicole asked the nurse attending her, “What do I need to do to decline treatment in the way that’s going to make your job easiest?”
- Nicole waited in the hospital for 2 1/2 days after her water broke. This is typically not heard of of. Most women are pressured into augmenting labor or into cesarean session.
While maintaining control of her birthing process was at the forefront of Nicole's agenda, she was willing to make a few compromises with hospital procedure and with hospital staff. "I'm not gonna refuse everything," Nicole decided of her stay in the hospital. "You came here...so now that you're here," she told herself, "let's negotiate..." Some of the concession Nicole made were:
- letting them monitor her
- letting them put the IV in
- taking one antibiotic for 24hours
However, there were a few things on which Nicole was absolutely not willing to budge. When the staff wanted to give her Pitocin she protested, "That is one thing you will not do." Though much of the staff backed down easily, one younger white doctor, Nicole recalls, resisted.
“She comes in my room, flippin’ her hair wanting to know why won’t I take Pitocin; and I’m thinking to myself, ‘did they not tell her who was in this room?”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole recalls in detail the incident at the start time of the video below.
Nicole was also adamant that she would not consent to routine cervical checks. Hospitals typically rush moms to progress labor or to undergo cesarean section after an amniotic sac breaks because, they argue, the risk of infection increases. However, Nicole contends,
[T]he real culprit is the cervical check…if your water bag is broken and they check you, and they check you, and they check you, then yes…you’re at increased risk of infection, but if they never check you, you don’t have no issues.Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole says she consented to 1 cervical check on admission because she was contracting at the time. Once contractions ceased, Nicole saw no reason for any more cervical exams.
Unmedicated Birth 3 Days AFTER Water Breaks?
“What I found out is when you’re preterm, once your water bag breaks…that baby will wait…to come oftentimes 3, up to 7 days on average…whereas if you’re full term, within 24 hours you’re in active labor.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole's story is a case study of this very statistic. On day 3 at midnight she had her first contraction. "It woke me up out of my sleep." Less than 6 hours later, Nicole gave birth. Hear her birth story in detail at the start time below.
Nicole Battles With Doubt
I remember thinking to myself, ‘this is so stupid’…what are you doing this for? Tryin’ to have a natural birth. This is so dumb. This is like ridiculous…I don’t know who was talking, but that was in my head…I pushed that to the back.”Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
It turns out that whatever the origin of the voice in Nicole's head, it was one commissioned to discourage her because it knew what Nicole was about to accomplish. When Nicole gave her midwife permission to check her cervix for progress, the midwife exclaimed, "oh! The head is right there!" From that moment on, Nicole describes the rest of her birth as an autonomous experience that she had total control over.
When I tell you that I birthed my baby as close to what could have been at home, it was what it was.Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Her midwife, doula, and her partner supported her efforts, but Nicole's credits her body with doing the work.
What Is The Power In An Undisturbed Birth? Why Would Any Woman Want One?
For me…I walked away feeling joy…I feel like I had an ecstatic birth…and I knew that the trajectory of my life was changed…Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
HEAR Nicole's full answer to this question at the start of the video below.
[B]irth will change you…period…What type of change do you want to experience…What do you want to be the foundation of the change? Joy and ecstasy or pain and trauma?…I was changed in a joyful way.Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Nicole’s Final Advice
“Know that you have rights and you have options. Just because something is routine does not mean it’s required and the best decision you can make for your pregnancy and birth is to choose the right provider–hands down.Nicole Deggins; Sista Midwife Productions
Want More of Nicole Deggins And Her Wisdom?
You can follow Nicole on Instagram and on Facebook. If you are looking for a black midwife, doula, or lactation consultant; visit SistaMidwifeDirectory.com, the largest directory of black birthworkers; and search by state for best results. If you are a black birthworker, list yourself–it’s completely free!
If you would like to train with Nicole to become a birth sister/doula, visit https://www.sistamidwife.com/doulatraining and register. The next training takes place October 12, 2021 through December 14, 2021. Payment plans are available.
You can also check out Nicole’s annual event “The Art of Birthing” which will feature an online art auction October 1-31, and a Birth Justice Film Festival October 9th.
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