This is the story of the birth of my son. It’s also the story of the birth of a mother. For nine long months I dreamt of the baby inside of me. What he would look like, how much hair he would have, what his personality would be, what it would be like when we finally met. So much of what I learned of his personality inside the womb rang true when we met him. He is cuddly and curious and very strong willed; all things I knew from the many months of feeling him toss and turn and make his presence known in my womb. No matter how impatient I felt in waiting for my Judah to be born, I fully trust in God’s design for birth and truly feel like my body was created to go through this process in the most natural way. Which means waiting, enduring the pain, and allowing this baby to be born naturally no matter how big or in what time.
I carefully curated a playlist in the months leading up to his birth, full of worship music that I knew would make me feel brave and empowered by the Holy Spirit to push through labor. But now, even though the constant flow of worship music was amazing and I distinctly remember being encouraged by it and worshipping throughout the birth, I have no distinct memory of when a particular song played or helped me through a certain phase. Except for one; when Oceans by Hillsong United played (the live version) I distinctly remember being on my hands and knees, pushing, in the throes of the hardest part of my labor, and that song was playing. I remember breathing into the contractions and pushing our sweet baby down farther into the birth canal, and just worshipping. This memory didn’t hit me until I was holding Judah in my arms today as he slept and I heard this song again. I looked at his sweet face and the memory overwhelmed me, I worked so hard to bring this sweet boy into my arms. With nearly two hours of pushing, the most excruciating and frustrating time of my whole life, I couldn’t see the light at the end. And then, in the blink of an eye, he’s in my arms, sleeping soundly after I finish nursing him. A whole six weeks old. Judah’s labor and birth was a battle with myself and with this natural process. I would do it all over again, and when I was hit with this memory of worshipping through pushing him into the world, I deeply craved doing it again. I am so grateful that God led me to this decision of birthing our son naturally in our home, and I’m grateful that I could give Judah the gift of a peaceful birth. He was never away from me, neither of us were ever bothered with any invasive or unnecessary interventions, and he was born into such love and celebration from the moment he first cried out.
Right now as I attempt to pour out into words how beautiful his birth was, how difficult and heartbreaking the wait for him was, and now how I can’t even remember life before him, Judah is sleeping on me with his little cheeks all squished up around his rosebud mouth. There is nothing better than his scent! His cheeks and the top of his fuzzy little head smell like spun sugar. I’ve never known a love like this…
My doula, and my sister and friend, Grethel, told me once that waiting for labor to begin is like waiting for a pot of water to boil and watching it. At 36 weeks, during one of David’s sermons at church one Sunday night, I began feeling my first pre labor contractions. Crampy and tight and sort of suffocating. They took my breath away and I remember being in tears and unable to really stand after the service. I got up and left the sanctuary during the last worship set to walk, get some water and a snack, and see if the contractions subsided. I sat in the lobby munching on a cracker and trying to wrap my head around what I was feeling. My father-in-law came over and laid a hand on my shoulder. “You okay?” I nodded, I didn’t feel like I could really form any words. “You’re in pain?” I nodded again and he just stood next to me for a few more minutes until the service ended. That night David skipped his closing duties, per the rest of the staff’s request, to get me home. We all thought, this could be it! It was early so I was very nervous about the possibility of going into labor. I wanted our baby boy to have more time to bake and I knew that by law if I were to go into labor my midwife wouldn’t be able to deliver our baby in our home which was a really terrifying thought at the time. I was not ready to have this baby in the hospital, that wasn’t the plan or what I felt was best for both of us. That was my first false alarm, we had another four weeks or so of this. It felt like those tight, sometimes painful contractions never stopped for the next month. When I finally reached 39 weeks I was so ready! Praying every day for Jesus to bring our baby boy soon. It was getting painful and exhausting and like it was never going to end! Feeling him constantly pushing lower and lower, and every night I had episodes of what felt like menstrual cramps on steroids. I was becoming so discouraged. David and I laugh because there were a few times I would just cry because I was afraid he would actually never be born. Even though I was discouraged by the wait, at that point I knew it really could be any day.
On Wednesday the 20th of April I went and visited my midwife, Dana. She asked me about my spirits and I almost started to cry right there. I told her I trusted God and how He designed my body to house and grow this little guy until he was ready to be born, but at the same time I was really starting to lose hope! She listened and we spoke about how important it really is that we give him as much time as possible inside of me, but we also talked about how clear it was that all of these weeks of prodromal labor had been priming my body for the real deal. She said she really felt like I would go into labor and the whole ordeal would go very quickly. When she checked I was dilated to 2cm, she then brought my cervix forward and reported I was now dilated to a 3. She performed a brief stretch and sweep to hopefully stir some things up and, if my body and baby were ready, jumpstart labor. That was Wednesday morning and the rest of the day I was spotting blood and having some serious cramps. I was trying to not get too excited over this, because I knew this was normal after a membrane sweep and we would just have to wait and see if anything came of it. David and I went home that night, had dinner together (I didn’t have much of an appetite at this point as the cramps were getting kind of strong), and went to bed praying yet again for labor to begin. The pain subsided and I fell asleep, trying not to get my hopes too high.
I woke up at 2:55AM for my nightly trip to the bathroom and I was feeling painful contractions. I don’t know if it was the contractions that woke me up in the first place or not, but they were definitely keeping me awake. I climbed back into bed and couldn’t stay silent through them, they were really becoming painful. I pulled up the contraction timer on my phone and timed them at 45 seconds long and a minute apart. Whoa. I didn’t want to wake David because at this point I wanted to be absolutely sure it wasn’t another false alarm. But I couldn’t stay quiet through them and David ended up waking with me around 3:30. I hopped in the shower for some warm water, which really helped with the pain, and insisted to David that it wasn’t time to call Grethel, my doula, just yet. I wanted to be sure! David was timing my contractions now and they were still only a minute apart. By four I was begging him to call Grethel. I wasn’t able to get a hold of her until around 6, I told her then that I had been in and out of the shower all morning and David reported to her the sequence of my contractions. She listened to me go through one and then told us to call our moms and she would be right over.
Apparently, and I wasn’t aware of this until after Judah was born, Grethel was concerned we would be having an unassisted home birth because it seemed like I was progressing very quickly. She expressed this to my mother-in-law and asked how she preformed under pressure in an emergency situation. Little did we know we would be working to bring our little boy into the world until almost midnight.
Both of our moms and Grethel were over within the hour and my midwife, Dana, wasn’t far behind. Shortly after she arrived her assistant, Amanda, was there also. I was in the middle of a hard contraction when Dana arrived. I only remember her coming in, setting her bag down quietly, kissing me on the head, and then making herself at home silently. Dana is the very best and I am one hundred percent looking forward to her being my midwife for our next birth.My contractions hadn’t really changed since I had woken up early that morning. I couldn’t walk or talk through them still and after each one I felt like I desperately needed to change positions, I realize now that was my way of trying to physically escape from them. Because I woke so early, I was already beginning to lose steam as the morning waned and afternoon approached. We were all a little surprised our little boy hadn’t made his appearance yet. I remember being so hungry and nauseous and without any appetite for my entire labor, I survived on crackers and water for most of the day.
Sometime in the afternoon, I’m not totally sure what time because I was so in the zone, my contractions became way too much to handle. I hadn’t planned on having a water birth and I had said if I wanted warm water for comfort I would just get into the shower or bathtub. But I had reached this point now where I knew I needed to be totally weightless and have warm water surrounding me, which I couldn’t achieve with just the bathtub or shower. With every contraction I moaned and tried not to throw up, we had the bucket very nearby but I didn’t actually need to use it the entire labor, thankfully. I requested the birth pool and my amazing birth team got to work blowing it up and boiling water fill the pool. That first contraction inside the tub was bliss! I finally felt like I could relax. I had been up for probably twelve hours and had been working hard since waking. I was exhausted and laying down through a contraction was unbearable, instead I had spent lots of time on my hands and knees and on the birth ball. I can’t even tell you the kind of muscle pain I had in the first week after the birth from being on my hands and knees so much that day, I could barely pull myself up in bed or hold Judah without a million pillows propping me up for the first four days. Everyone left me to labor in the tub in our bedroom for a few hours. David or my mom would come in and sit with me and we would talk in between contractions. I had a popsicle while in the tub and even dozed off in between contractions for a little while. I had heard of women falling asleep in between contractions before and didn’t believe for a second that it was possible. Let me tell you, it is so possible! The exhaustion was overwhelming and it’s probably good that I could preserve my strength in that way, I still had many hours to go. The team sat in the living room, talking and listening to my contractions. They guessed from the sounds of my wailing that I was at 8 centimeters. I hadn’t been checked yet and I liked it that way, how I was progressing was obvious simply in the way I was navigating contractions and the sounds I was making. I also remember that when it started to get really bad, I just started praying out loud and telling Judah how much I wanted to meet him. I also remember being on all fours worshipping quietly to “Even When It Hurts” by Hillsong. Even when it hurts like hell, I’ll praise you… Amen.
Around dinner time, while my mother-in-law ran out to get Thai food for the birth team, my midwife asked gently if I was ready to be checked for dilation. I timidly nodded as I knew how uncomfortable it was when I wasn’t in labor and now I couldn’t even imagine how uncomfortable it would be. It wasn’t actually that bad considering what I had been feeling all day. It was just David, Dana, and I in the bedroom. I was gripping David’s hand, not because of any pain, but the anticipation of pain. Dana looked at me with really wide eyes and said, “You’re complete! You’re at ten centimeters!” I started to cry from relief and excitement. My water still hadn’t broken which she said was a sign of good health, but the water bag was bulging and the sooner it broke the sooner we would get to meet our son. We went into the living room and announced I was at ten centimeters, the whole room exploded. It felt like such a victory! We were so close! If only I had known I still had hours to go. I told Grethel when I reached ten centimeters that looking back this had actually been a pretty easy labor. I had been anticipating the dreaded transition phase, but it turns out I had already gone through it. Looking back I can pinpoint the time when I was in transition, but I think if I had know that I was transitioning I would’ve been much more scared and anxious, making the experience worse.
We tried walking up and down the hallway outside our apartment, stopping to moan or squat through a contraction. Our poor neighbors… I had several people pass me while in the middle of a contraction and instead of trying to contain my moaning, I just had to focus on what was going on inside my body instead of outside of it. After an hour of walking and squatting and even some small pushes to get him to move down farther, Dana offered to release my waters for me so we could get this show on the road. After my water broke everything got really intense really fast. With every contraction I felt him getting lower and lower in the birth canal. Dana encouraged me to stay out of the birth pool at this point because the gravity in the pool wasn’t helping my progress, it was hindering it instead. We needed gravity to work in our favor to bring him down. We tried some supported squats, hands and knees, and lots of walking and swaying. This is the point where I became very ornery, looking back I feel so bad for my team! They put up with so much! I resisted the squatting and told them profusely “I can’t do it!” which they responded, “Yes you can and you have to.” I also kept begging them to let me get into the warm water, I needed the relief! But it would surely stall progress so they all gently encouraged me not to. I remember looking at the tub longingly and thinking about making a swift run for it, but then I remembered there was nothing swift about my movement at the moment. Eventually they all decided they would leave me alone to labor with just my mom. So for the next hour, one of the most intense hours of my life, just my mom and I labored together. I let out some pretty blood curdling screams during those contractions. I wasn’t necessarily feeling the urge to push, but I felt my uterus push him down for me with each contraction and tried to work with it by also pushing. I tried feeling for his head and felt nothing, which made me cry even more. This part of my labor was the absolute hardest next to when he was crowning and I was pushing him out. I was sitting in the bathroom and with every contraction I let out these horrid, involuntary screams and tried really hard to push him lower and lower. When I told Dana I was ready to really push she got David and we moved into the bedroom. I moved from hands and knees to laying on my back while pushing. I did this for about a half hour until I was on all fours and reached down and felt his head. I rolled onto my back and pushed as hard as I could with each contraction and Dana applied olive oil as he was crowning to aid stretching. I remember feeling like the most natural thing in that moment was to use my hands to help stretch the space to help his head get through. I touched the top of his fuzzy little head and pushed really hard. Up until he began crowning, I had felt I could run from this, from laboring. I thought I could find some other way out because this was just way more than I could handle. I kept shouting that I just couldn’t do it and I was too tired. But as soon as he began to crown and I knew how close I was to meeting him, I dug my heels in and pushed through. I was the only one who could do this work. I had finally hit that wall that I think every laboring woman does where I just realized I had to keep going because the only way out of this pain and the only way I was going to meet Judah was by going through it, not any other way.
I remember looking at Dana and saying, “Dana, he’s not going to fit! How is he going to fit???” And my mom in the background was confidently assuring me “He’s going to fit, sweet girl!” But later she confessed that she didn’t think he was going to fit either- we have laughed so hard about that now.
Before I knew it Dana was saying calmly, “Isabelle, reach down and pull your baby out.” His entire head had been born and, with a few more pushes and help from Dana, his body was born. His legs were so long, I was pulling him out and I remember thinking his body was never going to end. I was so shocked by this big, beautiful boy that had just come out of me! It’s such a miraculous thing, how these bodies of ours were created.
From the moment our Judah was born he was so aware and so content. He cried only for a few moments before settling into some little chirps and grunts and squeaks. Like he was talking to us, telling us about this incredible journey he had just taken. He worked so hard that day also, I really felt like we were a team during this beautiful birthing process.
So, he’s here…he’s finally here. And he’s mine like nothing as ever been mine before. I love him even more now, as he naps in my lap after a really good feeding, than I did the moment I birthed him and pulled him onto my chest. And in that moment as I looked into his navy blue eyes, his body warm and heavy, I couldn’t believe this love was even possible.
Motherhood is so beautiful, and at the moment so fresh and new. Six weeks into this new role of mine and I already feel settled, like this is where I have always belonged. I am grateful for this healthy, beautiful boy and our birth story- the birth story God gave us so mercifully. So much was birthed with Judah that day, and so much continues to grow from this new season. I am so grateful that there is grace for this season. Grace in breastfeeding, which was really hard at first but now its beautiful. Grace when he’s awake and crying in the middle of the night as I try to change or feed him and my fragile hormones are telling me he’s screaming at me, which is obviously not true. And so much grace when he finally falls into my arms, warm and snuggly and sighing happily. I can’t even believe that this baby is mine and that God has entrusted him to me. I look at him and I see something I have waited for for what seems like forever.
Dana says of her oldest son, “I was just a normal girl before you.” And, oh, how I understand that now.
I was just a normal girl before you, Judah Harvest. Your mama loves you so much.