One of the most remarkable parts of birth is how each woman’s experience is completely different. From her first child to her second (or third or fifth), from one woman to another, between sisters, or mothers, or grandmothers, or even what we envision for ourselves – we never repeat the same birth twice. And it was in this realization that I took great comfort in the planned and not-so-planned parts of Leo’s birth. It was unique. Not only from my firstborn’s birth but from my own expectations of how the experience was going to unfold. Once again, the Lord showed me that His ways are good and I need only to surrender.
Birth reiterates what I’ve always known (and what brings me great comfort) – the greatest things happen when you give up control.
Thursday, October 24th, 10:00 am
I walked into my OB appointment at 39 weeks 5 days sans Brandon, holding Luke’s hand, and subconsciously rubbing Leo’s baby bump. Bran didn’t take work off for the appointment because he was about to be off for a week and a half once Leo arrived. I wasn’t worried about his absence since I knew it would be a routine heart-beat, blood pressure, dilation check. I hadn’t experienced any labor signs so I thought it would be a quick 15 minute appointment. My midwife, Janelle, checked me and announced I was 80% effaced and 2cm dilated (which essentially meant nothing since you can be both of those numbers for days or weeks without going into labor).
We chatted for a minute and then she looked at me and said, “I’d like to induce you so he doesn’t have the opportunity to flip back [to breech] since you’re so favorable.” I learned “favorable” meant baby was in a good position, I was healthy, and my pregnancy was full term.
“Can you induce without Pitocin? I had half of a cervix-softening pill with Luke and my labor started right away.” I said. I wanted the least amount of medicine possible with Leo’s birth (LOL – keep reading), so my choice depended on her answer.
“Yes, we could do that this time too. I’ll submit a request and you call the hospital tonight and see if they have a room available for you.”
“Ok!” I said, getting giddy with excitement. All I could think about was the one appointment Brandon didn’t attend was the one that determined when we’d be meeting our baby boy! My mind just kept saying, you get to meet him tomorrow! You get to meet him tomorrow!
Throughout the whole third trimester, I had been dreaming about the spontaneity of going into labor naturally. So, it came as a surprise, even to myself, that I was so eager to meet him before then – and that I agreed to induction. I truly did not want to give Leo any more opportunity to flip back to breech and force me into a c-section, so I opted for the induction knowing that the vaginal birth I was so passionate about would be a reality.
Thursday, October 24th, 8:00 pm
“Babe, I think it’s about time you call the hospital and see if they have a room for you,” Bran said as we sat at the kitchen island eating dinner.
“Yeah, ok, I’ll call when we are done. I don’t want to call too soon just in case.” Janelle had told me that ideally we would check into the hospital at midnight because it would take 4 hours for me to get my dosage of antibiotics for group B strep, and then they’d start the induction process afterwards.
Our bags were packed, I had showered, we were eating dinner, and Luke’s care was all set up for our midnight date with labor and delivery. But when I called around 9pm to confirm, the nurse informed me that they were short staffed and they would call me when a room was available.
We were a little bummed at first, but then we quickly realized we would get to sleep in our own bed for the night and have that last night with Luke. We went to bed ready for their call.
Friday, October 25th, 9:00 am
Luke woke us up on Friday morning around 7am. Bran went out in the living room with him so that I could get some more sleep before the hospital called. Bran made breakfast and we had a slow, relaxed morning as a family. The hospital finally called at 9am – they had a room ready for us – and we said we could be there in 30 minutes!
We loaded up the car with our hospital bag, my pregnancy pillow, Luke’s overnight bags, Leo’s diaper bag, my camera, and the other little things we brought and took off. We dropped Luke off at my in-laws and drove the 15 minutes to the hospital. When we arrived we went to registration, got our wristbands, pre-paid some estimated costs, and then were escorted up to our room.
Bran and I had permanent smiles. The time had come.
We got settled in the delivery room and my nurse came in, set the IV, and started administering the antibiotics. I got a new dose every 4 hours. It was painful and uncomfortable because the penicillin stung as it entered my vein, so the nurse added a saline drip along with it. Bran and I ate Chipotle, chatted, updated our families, and watched Hocus Pocus while we waited. I thought I’d get a nap but napping in the hospital is impossible with all the vital checks, paperwork, and questionnaires. Leo was on the monitors happy as a clam with a steady heartbeat around 135 and plenty of movement.
4 hours flew by.
My mom and sister were getting ready to come join us at the hospital. The nurse administered the cervix-softening pill and we waited for labor to start. I was excited. The hardest, most rewarding, limit-pushing, 12-hour-journey was about to begin. I felt prepared for the unknown – as well as you can prepare for the unknown – and I was about to meet another love of my life face to face.
Waiting. My mom and sis arrived – 2 integral parts of my labor team and we sat around chatting as we waited. I got up and walked around, bounced on the ball, danced to music playing, did lunges and squats – anything to get him lower and lower. I felt the tiniest of cramps and prayed that contractions would start soon.
My mom and sis talking was a nice distraction for me. We can talk about anything! Bran also set up his computer and we watched The Office.
Still light cramping – only as bad as normal period cramps. My midwives came in and checked me periodically. They said if I didn’t start progressing a little more then I could be administered Pitocin to help me start contracting. I made it my mission to walk, lunge, squat, dance all throughout the halls of the labor and delivery floor to get Leo as low as possible. Bran walked circles with me and did a few exercises to help labor progress. At 6:30pm my midwife, Desiree, came in and attempted to break my water. It didn’t break. Still waiting. Still walking. Still dancing. I had a mantra at this point, come on Leo, move down buddy, we want to meet you today, come on Leo, lower buddy, lower.
My labor finally began to progress!
Dilated to 5, the contractions were becoming less dull cramping and more measurable. I went from talking and laughing through contractions to focusing on getting through them. The pain was bearable and each island of peace in between was a sufficient rest.
5-6 centimeters is when my excitement turned more to focus. Desiree showed Brandon some ways to help ease my discomfort and different positions to relieve the pressure. I asked for the birthing tub to be set up, knowing that I’d want to labor in water soon.
He was coming. Finally, he was coming.
7-ish cm dilated.
Each contraction was met with focus and singing. I had a playlist on my phone and Brandon’s phone already set up with songs that either soothed me, I loved to sing, or made me feel at peace. 90% of them were worship songs. Others were slow like Dean Lewis’ “Be Alright”, Blue October’s “Home”, and Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over”. Knowing most of the words to these songs, I sang my way through each contraction. I blocked out everything, only focusing on my breath and the slow rhythm of the songs. I held onto Bran’s neck and we swayed back and forth. I leaned over a birthing ball that was perched on the bed and rocked, allowing my belly to hang down. The pain was bearable and the rest in between was sufficient.
8cm dilated. Heading into transition.
The singing was over. The birthing tub was full of warm water. My birthing team (Brandon, my mom, and my sister) were in position.
The marathon was truly just beginning. I felt equipped and prepared for this next phase of labor only because of the support around me and the beautiful design of breath. With each contraction I only had room for one thought in my mind. As I had prepared my mind in the weeks prior, I imagined that scripture, worship music, or prayer would get me through the difficult 8/9/10cm dilated, but those didn’t.
Only my breath did.
As if the first thing we take on this earth was the only thing keeping me alive. For the next 4 hours it was slow deep breath in and an even slower release out.
My mind had one track: Breathe 1, 2, 3, 4…Repeat. Only 4 more times. Breathe 1, 2, 3, 4…Repeat. Only 3 more times.
I leaned on Bran with all my weight – and how beautiful is it that he supported it all – holding both his wife and his baby up.
My sister whispered into the room, “you got this. ride the wave. lean into it. relax.” and with each of her reminders I felt my body doing exactly as she said.
My mom was this quiet peace in the room keeping me comfortable. She fanned me and held my hand and told me what a great job I was doing.
Breathing and those 3. They ushered me into the hardest 4 hours of my life.
I would later learn that it was at this time, that although I stopped singing, I clung to one song in particular: Alison Krauss’, “Down to the River to Pray”. I have no recollection of hearing this particular song more than maybe the 4 or 5 times I asked them to replay it but just as they said, it became the anthem of my labor. For 4 hours this song played on repeat because I wouldn’t let them play anything else. 4. hours. Unbeknownst to me, I asked them to replay it over and over and over. There was something about the beat, the rhythm, the melody that matched my breathing perfectly. It was soothing to me. And it felt like I couldn’t focus without it.
The pain was becoming inescapable. I started to tell myself that I was getting close. I had to be getting close. Just get through the next one. You can do it. One at a time. played in my mind for the entire 2 minutes that I got to rest in between.
My midwife offered nitrous oxide to help with the pain. I had already been told that it was an option – and one that I wanted to try instead of an epidural – so I desperately accepted. It seemed to take forever for the nurses to set it up but once they did I took it, hoping for some relief. Relief didn’t come. All it did was make me feel very relaxed and tired in between contractions, which I guess is exactly what it’s supposed to do. The placebo effect was nice though – and the face mask forces you to focus on breathing in because you have to kind of suck the nitrous oxide in through the mask. This sucking feeling helped me focus on my breathing even more, so for that mask I was thankful.
My midwife continued to check me through this time. She told me that he was still high but was coming down – that I’d be pushing soon. I held onto that hope like a life raft.
She got suited up – the nurses came in – the birth recorder was there. I lied down on the bed and pushed…and pushed and pushed. And then she told me to stop. He was stuck. I was to continue laboring but it shouldn’t be much longer.
Saturday, October 26th, 12:30 am
I wanted nothing more than to escape my own body at this point, but I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I held on for dear life. I endured each contraction begging Leo to come out. I surrendered because I had no other choice.
But I didn’t surrender peacefully. My breath was becoming less quiet and more guttural. I began to sound more like someone being tortured than someone willingly birthing naturally. My mind thought of every person I knew that had labored without medication. I burned it in my mind that millions of women before me had done this very thing in a field, in a hut, in a cave. I pulled on the strength of every woman who had gone before me. My grandmother having done it 6 times. My sister having done it only 6 months prior. The women who birthed my mother’s mother and her mother’s mother – who didn’t even have the chance to ask for relief. If they could do it – so could I.
Push attempt #2. I remember saying, “I have no strength left.” and everyone in that room assured me that I did. And so I pushed with everything I didn’t have. I used the contractions as leverage, allowing the involuntary muscle spasms to work him out. But nothing happened. Desiree told me to stop pushing. He was still stuck.
Brandon singing Alison Krauss’ “Down to the River to Pray” in my ear kept me sane – I literally counted each time he sang it knowing that 3 or 4 times meant the contraction was ending. I squeezed my mom’s hand so hard that I’m sure it turned blue – but she never acted like it hurt. My sister kept the affirmations coming, making me feel strong enough to endure this.
Desiree checked again. He was stuck even worse – my cervix was swelling around his head, blocking him from coming down the birth canal. I had to get out of the warm water again and lay in the bed on my side – my leg draped and my hips twisted over a peanut ball. This new position was to relieve pressure, allow the swelling to go down, and him to lower. All it did for me was make the contractions feel like a prison. My body began to shake and push all on it’s own. I apologized over and over. “I’m sorry! I can’t control it. My body is pushing on its own.” I cried.
My teeth chattered so bad it sounded like I had hypothermia but I wasn’t cold. I was just exhausted. My hands and my shoulders shook and the more I tried to breathe some relaxation into my muscles, the more they worked against me. Desiree told me not to push – pushing made the swelling worse – but with the shaking and the laboring for so long at 10cm – I was no longer pushing on my own. My body was pushing for me. My body was convulsing despite me.
“Can you just cut my cervix? Just get him out somehow? I can’t do this any longer!” I begged.
I was desperate. No one could help me. No one could take the pain for me. And I was starting to lose sight of him ever coming out. I shook so bad. It scared me that my body could shake and mini-convulse that bad all by itself.
The pain became so exhausting and unbearable I wanted them to just take Leo and leave me there. I begged him to come out. My breath was still the one thing I clung to. If I could just breathe, I’d make it through. But at this point my breath was becoming more like a moan that ended in a wail. I’d start out calm and then the contraction would force my body to push and I’d end it like those women screaming in the movies.
I remember looking at Bran’s face and he seemed worried. I had been laboring for so long with no change. Is he afraid I’m going to die? I thought.
But then I quickly reasoned with myself. If I was going to die they would have taken me for a c-section by now. This is very hard. But it isn’t abnormal. I’m in good hands. I’m safe. I chose this.
I chose this. But it was at this point I wanted to unchoose it. My mind was losing hope that I could finish the race – that I could endure this pain. I could endure it by itself but for this long? It felt like torture.
Then Desiree walked in and said, “This is completely your choice but we think you should have an epidural so your body can relax and stop swelling.”
“Yes, please.” Thank you, God! 4 hours in transition and relief was on it’s way!
It took 30 minutes for the anesthesiologist to come in, prepare, and place the block. Bran sat next to me holding my hand. I had to sit still in the middle of a contraction – being very careful not to move or flinch. I remember hugging a pillow so hard my shaking arms began to ache.
“Ok, it’s in. It’s going to take a little bit for it to catch up to your contractions. It doesn’t work very fast when you’re this far into labor.” The anesthesiologist said before he left the room.
I lay there praying for it to go faster. After 20 minutes I could feel my right leg go numb. I had to lay on my side for the left side to take. But only feeling contractions on my left side for an extra 30 minutes was nothing compared to the hours beforehand.
My body started to relax. I stopped shaking. The pain was gone. I napped.
A time such as this is what modern medicine is for. And that I had the option to get relief that late in the game – I was so relieved.
After a short nap, Desiree checked me again. My cervix swelling had gone down and Leo was ready to come out.
Time to push.
I held one end of a knotted sheet and a tiny, young nurse held the other end. They told me when I was having a contraction and I pulled on that knot as my body folded forward, pushing with everything I had. It was weird. To push with an epidural. You can’t feel anything so you don’t know if your muscles are actually working. The midwives and the nurses and my sister and Brandon and my mom all cheered me on, “PUSHHHHHHHH! And breathe…and PUSHHHHH!”
Desiree announced I was sitting up too high, that I needed better leverage when pushing. I grabbed some handles under the bed and rolled my chin forward so that my abs were doing all the work. “Yes! That’s it!” she said. She set up a mirror so I could watch him being born, and after a few more pushes I could see his head.
“Here he comes, mama!”
The teams got into position. There was a flurry in the room, an excitement buzzing, my adrenaline pumping. Brandon was supporting me so physically it was like he was part of the pushing that was about to get his son out.
My sis snapped photos and my mom held my hand. She held my hand the whole time.
And then I pushed with the fervor of every woman whose birthed before, with the great celebration that I knew was coming, with every exhausted shaking muscle, with the dancing and the singing, with 4 hours of the same song, and with the force of a million breaths that got me to that point.
I grit my teeth and I pushed and pushed.
And I’ve never known such euphoria as I did in that moment.
Our beautiful, healthy, perfect son was born.
Leo Vance + 4:01am + 10/26/19 + 8 pounds + 21 inches
They laid his pink little body right on my chest and I lost all control. I cried and cried and declared how perfect he was – how perfect that moment was.
I turned to Brandon and said, “We have to have 3 kids!” because I couldn’t imagine not feeling that instant love one more time.
Isn’t it a beautiful perfect design, what God has made? That only an hour before I was so desperately ready to succumb to the pain and now it was not only forgotten but invited back.
I fell in love that day. I fought so hard – I labored so long – that the reward, our perfect son, was sweeter than I could have imagined. To hear Brandon declare how strong and brave and in awe he was of his wife, to have my sister cheering me on so well, and to have my own mother witness and carry me through birth was just pure joy.
Leo’s birth was not nearly as easy as Luke’s. It didn’t go as I had envisioned or planned (although the vaginal delivery part sure did!). And it felt like I had to use every medicine that hospital offered to get him earthside.
But it was an incredibly life changing 12 hours. Women are spectacular, resilient, strong, divine creatures and I will forever be in awe of them. I’m so proud of myself. I/We can do hard things. Our Heavenly Father designed us that way. In His image. Regarded higher than the angels.
And I’m so thankful.