It always takes many hours to write my birth stories. Partly because I try to recall every detail, partly because there are so many hours to cover, and partly because it’s difficult to find the right words. I found myself wondering, “How can I describe one of the best days of my life?” What a privilege to remember this experience that way!
Having had a baby only 16 months ago, all the memories were fresh. My experience bringing Jack into the world was positive, but not everything I wished for. I was determined to do things differently this time around. I knew I needed to relax, but I didn’t know how! I needed tools to help me relax, which came in the form of “my Australian lady,” as Jon called her: Hypnobirthing home study recordings instructing me how to breathe effectively in every stage of labor. I wanted Grace’s birth to be peaceful, calm, and gentle with the goal of laboring at home as long as possible.
“Long” turned out to be the operative word there.
Baby Grace spent the last weeks of our pregnancy in a sunny-side-up position, with her back to my back. This posterior position can—and did—have a marked effect on my labor: it took a pretty long time.
Babies in posterior generally want to turn around. They want the path of least resistance. But they need plenty of space in the pelvis to do that, so my job was to give her that space through exercises, positioning, and even a chiropractic adjustment. Until she turned, though, my labor stopped and started. For days.
Grace was due Friday, March 7. But that due date had also been moved to March 13, then moved back to March 7. Because of this, I fully expected to go past the 7th. But more than that, I trusted that my baby knew exactly when and how to be born—induction was not an option I wanted to consider and I had my birth team’s support in that.
Labor began its stop/start pattern the evening of Friday, March 14. My contractions were regular enough to time, and strong enough to need to sit on my birth ball, but they vanished overnight. Discouraged and confused (“How is this happening? Why am I still pregnant?!”), I took Jack to my parents’ on Saturday morning and then met my doula Kathryn at our apartment. She arrived with an apple cider and a listening ear. She reminded me this is all normal and my baby still knows exactly how to be born! I needed so much more emotional support for this birth, and I cannot say enough good things about the crucial, holy work Kathryn does. She also helped me do some Spinning Babies maneuvers to help Grace turn. In the afternoon, I got a chiropractic adjustment and a pedicure. I’d had no contractions all day. We went to bed. Jon held me and I cried.
Contractions started up again Sunday at 5:00AM (they never fully went away, but birth was still 46 hours off). We got up determined to make it a regular day. We went to church, where I timed my contractions in the pew. We called my parents on the way home and asked them to come get Jack, because we thought this was it. We fed Jack lunch and I snapped a picture, knowing it would be the last as a family of 3!
I labored all Sunday afternoon and evening, and by 4:00AM Monday, contractions were intense enough to call our doula, Kathryn. She and our shadow doula, Elizabeth, arrived to help me do some more Spinning Babies maneuvers. We believe they were effective in helping her turn, but also resulted in contractions spacing out considerably, beginning around 7:00AM. I was able to get 15 minutes of sleep between contractions for most of the morning. Kathryn left us to labor on our own around 1:00PM and I tried to sleep between contractions the rest of the afternoon.
Around dinner time, Jon and I were both struck with a sense of wanting to get the show on the road! We bundled up and walked to our neighborhood Chik-Fil-A, where I had a spicy chicken sandwich. After dinner, we wanted to keep walking, so we headed across the street to wander around Target and create a baby registry. What? Normal people don’t create a registry in person during labor?
We returned home and things started to pick up. I got in the bathtub where I had practiced my relaxation and surge breathing in the weeks prior. I can confidently say that learning those breathing techniques made a huge difference. I was able to labor longer at home and endure my surges more effectively. I even documented this stage of labor!
Around 8:00PM (pretty much right after taking that picture!), I called out to Jon and asked him to “talk me off my ledge”—I wanted to go to the hospital and get an epidural. Jon remained calm and reminded me of all we were working for. Such a terrific partner.
I felt overheated in the tub and couldn’t relax, so I got out and that’s when things really picked up. I needed to take each contraction on hands and knees, with Jon applying counter-pressure on my back. It was kind of like the world stopped every few minutes: I would drop to the ground and exhale loudly with Jon leaned over me applying pressure. I think that’s what laboring women mean when they say they let their body take over—my conscious mind didn’t really factor in, I just did what felt right at that particular moment.
For all Jon’s distraction, I continued to ask—through tears—to go to the hospital. We FaceTimed with Kathryn and I told her going would signify “the next step” to me. I said I was tired and didn’t want to keep doing this hard work. Kathryn confirmed I was transitioning into active labor, and the emotions and hormones were strong. There was a lot of crying.
When we hung up with Kathryn, Jon got out my birth affirmations, statements I had written down and been reading—truths I believed about my baby, my body, and my birth. In the throes of labor, I didn’t think hearing them would be much help, but words are powerful, and they provided an anchor for me as I endured wave after wave, giving me something to hold on to. Here are a few:
The joy of the Lord is my strength.
The Lord of peace gives me peace at all times, in every way.
I have everything I need.
This contraction is a wave, and the wave always comes to shore.
My body is strong and perfect.
My baby was made from love, to be love, to spread love. (Thanks, Kid President, for that one!)
I am not afraid. I was made to do this.
That last one turned out to be particularly crucial, as it became apparent that I was still holding onto some fears. When he figured that out, Jon had me repeat the words several times, until I began to believe them!
I continued to harass Jon about the hospital (“Just call Kathryn and have her meet us there!”) and he continued to dodge my questions, distract me, and otherwise ignore that I was trying to throw our birth wishes out the window! While it annoyed me at the time, on a deeper level, I knew he was doing exactly what we wanted him to do, which was to keep me from going into the hospital too early.
Kathryn and Elizabeth arrived around 10:30PM and found me on the couch with my shoes on! Jon was loading the car one item at a time and we caravanned to Methodist. Despite trusting that Grace had turned and that this was, in fact, active labor, I still worried that moving to the hospital would interrupt labor and I would stall out again. I snapped this blurry photo between contractions as we exited onto Excelsior Boulevard:
We made it to Methodist, left everything in the car, and beelined straight for the third floor. I had a contraction as the elevator opened to the Family Birth Center and told Jon, “I don’t think I can move!” He held the door open and the doctor who was about to step aboard told me, “Well, you’re in the right place!”
An intake nurse took us back toward triage and asked me a bunch of questions. I remember being short with her, but I didn’t mean to be. For whatever reason, the question, “Is this your first?” felt particularly offensive to me! I replied, “Nope,” but I really wanted to say, “Look at me, lady. Does this look like my first rodeo?!”
The triage nurse was lovely. She paused amidst her questions to ask if we had a copy of our birth plan for her: “I’m asking all these questions that you’ve probably already answered!” (She was and we did.) At my request, she checked me at 11:15PM and I was 100% effaced—thank you, Evening Primrose Oil! I was also dilated to a 4, “but super soft and stretchy” she could stretch me to a 6, so they called it a 5. In my mind, this was good news and good progress. My only source of disappointment was that Grace would definitely be born after midnight (on March 18), and wouldn’t share a birthday with my beloved late grandfather, Bob (March 17). The doctor on call came in and told me he knew by the look on my face that I was “a keeper;” they wouldn’t be sending me home.
I continued to breathe through all my contractions, though some were catching me off-guard with their intensity. I remember a particular one in that triage room that made me legitimately scream, though more from surprise and a brief moment of panic than from pain. Locking eyes with Jon was what brought me back to the present, and I returned to my breath to finish the surge. That husband of mine: he’s good.
Though I’d said yes to an epidural when the triage nurse first asked, I later waved away the IV fluids and said I’d wait to decide on the epidural. I was pleased with the progress I’d made and Jon and I agreed it would be smart to get admitted, move to our room, and then have another check before making a decision; it would buy us more time and perhaps I would progress enough to not need the epidural at all.
We moved to labor room 305 and met our delivery nurse Angie. I took my waves sitting on the edge of the bed and bouncing my feet. Jon held me and applied counter-pressure, and I buried my nose into his shoulder. I remember being comforted by the smell of his sweatshirt.
Kathryn read my affirmations between contractions and I maintained eye contact with Jon:
Jon kissed me to give me little bursts of oxytocin, which helps labor progress:
While I went into my zone, my team made the room feel home-y with electric tea lights:
The next cervical check at 12:30AM showed I was at a 6-7. Despite the peaceful environment, I felt scared that I was losing control. Kathryn affirmed my desire to feel safe. Through tears, I green-lit the epidural.
Neither the IV nor the epidural were placed correctly on the first try (ouch!), but the second time was a success. The epidural was finally placed by 1:30AM. I settled into bed, assuming it would be a few more hours and we could all get some sleep (based on my experience with Jack). The nurses reminded me to alert them if I started to feel any pressure or needing to push. I swear, as they were saying this, I felt that first familiar pang of low pressure!
At 2:10AM, I told the charge nurse (not Angie) I felt something passing through my cervix. I said I assumed it was my bag of waters, and she said she wanted to check me. While checking my cervix (which was 7cm), she broke my water, which gushed all over the bed and my socks. I was really unhappy that my waters had released because of the check—I wanted them to stay intact as long as possible to cushion Grace’s head. The charge nurse was brusque and unapologetic: “Oh, well, looks like your water broke!”
The disappointment continued: there was meconium in the fluid. After doing more reading/research, I know now that this is common among babies like Grace—those who have gone past their due dates and whose bowels are fully mature—and is not a sign of distress. But the risk is breathing in the meconium. So the charge nurse rattled off the hospital’s policy: “Well, we’re going to have to bring in some pediatric support just in case. And when the baby comes out, we’ll cut her cord immediately and take her to the warmer to suction her out.”
This was pretty much the opposite of our birth wishes, and I was caught off guard. I asked if there was any way Grace could still spend her first minutes on my chest instead, and the nurse said, “Well, I guess if she comes out screaming, she can.” I turned to my birth team: “Let’s pray right now!” And so we did.
Feeling at peace, I settled back for a few more minutes of rest—but not sleep. I had now been awake 45 hours, with only snatches of sleep between surges.
At 2:30AM, the OB resident Dr. Jessica Hubbs came in to tell me Grace’s heart rate was decelerating with each contraction, which meant she was making her way through the birth path. Dr. Hubbs was trying to communicate that Grace would be born soon, but it did not compute for me. I had just gotten my epidural. I hadn’t even slept yet! How could things be so close to the end?! Dr. Hubbs checked me and sure enough, there was just a small lip of cervix left. Once that was gone, I would be able to push. I was still feeling strong pressure during each surge, but the epidural was definitely at work.
The nurses turned me to my left side to labor Grace down while the staff readied the room. I began pushing at 3:10AM. I was carried by the memories of pushing Jack out—a 2.5-hour process—and now knew what a strong, effective push felt like. I was determined to meet Grace, now that she was so close!
I requested a mirror so that I could see my baby be born. I used my left hand to hold back my left leg, and gripped Jon’s hand with my right. I didn’t stop to think I might be hurting him or digging into him with my nails, but he never complained!
The epidural had really taken effect, so I had to ask a couple times for my team to read the monitors and tell me when my surges came so I could push. I watched in the mirror as Grace’s head emerged halfway right as a contraction ended. As the surge faded away, my team told me to stop pushing and wait to help my body stretch without tearing. We all knew the next push would be the last. Even with the epidural, I could feel the top half of Grace’s head stretching me. The entire room fell silent and I said, “Wow.” It was such an intense feeling!
When my team gave me the go-ahead, I pushed the rest of her head out, took another breath, and birthed the rest of her body. I felt the familiar slithery feeling as Grace slid into Dr. Hubbs’ waiting hands at 3:33AM. I was told later I only pushed for 20 minutes! They put her on my stomach immediately and she gave a couple squawks, then grew quiet again. She was covered in creamy vernix and didn’t resemble her brother as much as I expected. She was beautiful, and I noticed right away she had my nose instead of Jon’s!
I watched a nurse suction out her mouth with a blue bulb, but after just a few seconds of silence, they instructed Jon to cut the cord in preparation to take her to be suctioned more deeply. I was crestfallen. My baby was here, in my arms, and they wanted to take her away. I was not worried by her silence nor did the team’s sense of urgency frighten me. Jon and I locked eyes, and I think I shook my head no, because I didn’t want her cord cut so soon. The doctor repeated Jon’s name a couple times to get his attention and said, “You need to cut the cord right now!” This all happened in mere seconds, and in that moment, I didn’t believe—and still don’t—that the situation was as dire as they made it seem. I simply trusted my mama instinct, which told me she was completely healthy and safe.
Jon cut Grace’s cord, and the nurses took her to the warmer, where they suctioned her mouth, throat, stomach, and possibly her lungs, too, I was never told (if we were told, I don’t remember). She wailed loudly. I kept asking for her to be brought back to me, and Kathryn wisely suggested Jon go over and talk to Grace so she would have a familiar voice. It probably didn’t take more than a few minutes, but it really did feel like 10. Kathryn stayed by my side while Grace was across the room and while Dr. Hubbs worked to stitch me up. Back on the warmer, the nurses rubbed off all Grace’s vernix, hatted her, and did her Apgars: 8 and 9 (great news!); the scale read 7lbs 11oz. My instinct was right: healthy girl!
Out of the corner of my eye, Angie reached to put something into my IV and explained, “It’s Pitocin to help you deliver your placenta.” I stopped her: “Please don’t!” The attending OB (not Dr. Hubbs) told me it was standard procedure and asked, “Is there a reason you’re opposed to it or…?” as though I were doing it just to be obstinate! I asked if it was truly necessary right now or if we could wait to see if I really needed it. They agreed reluctantly, and sure enough, I was able to deliver my placenta a few minutes later, without Pitocin.
Finally, the pediatric staff brought Grace back to me. I was so happy to have her in my arms! I helped her onto her tummy and she lifted her head up and looked straight into my eyes! Hers were wide and blue, the same shape as mine. Her head bobbed over onto my breast and much to my relief she latched and nursed well almost immediately. Suctioning can interfere with a baby’s initial ability to latch, but it didn’t stop our Gracie girl!
The room quieted down as the extraneous staff departed. Finally, it was just our family and our team: me, Grace, Jon, Kathryn, and Elizabeth (perhaps still Angie, too, but in the periphery). Kathryn asked Grace’s full name…and a hush fell over the room! We still hadn’t decided for sure on her middle name! I looked at Jon and told him, “You pick.” We had it narrowed down to two names, and I told him I trusted him to choose. After a couple seconds, Jon said, “Grace Amelia” and I was relieved…if he’d picked the other name, I would have had to tell him I wanted Amelia instead! So much for trusting him to choose!
Kathryn stayed with us as we established good breastfeeding and she fed me some graham crackers. I was absolutely flying on adrenaline, and just remember smiling at her so much as we said goodbye around 4:30AM. Her support was so crucial to this experience and she spent so many hours with us spread out over several days. I think I was trying to convey my all my gratitude through my smiles! I am so relieved and grateful to have had her present for both Jack’s and Grace’s births, and truly see her as a friend, not just our doula.
Kathryn wrote me later and thanked me for inviting her into the sacred space of Grace’s birth, and truly, that’s what it was. There is so much holiness wrapped up in the creation, growth, and birth of new life.
I’ve written honestly about my struggle after learning I was pregnant with Grace. I feel like God has used the difficult, the unexpected to make me more like Him, or at least more the person He created me to be. Now, I look down at our perfect little daughter and am reminded every day to trust our sovereign God.