*All labor/birth photos credited to Kayla Wilkes Photography
Jacob’s due date was March 19th, and after three back to back pregnancies in three consecutive years, I was over with the guessing games of when he was going to come. With a 2.5 year old and a barely one year old, our whole lives had been filled with a whole lot of crazy since 2015.
I did, however, hope and pray with fervor that he would perhaps wait until after March 14th. We were preparing for a home birth and my parents, who would be travelling for the third time in three years from the Philippines to Greenville, SC to help us during labor and postpartum, would be arriving on March 14th and although we had a doula who we trusted could swoop in and fill in as many gaps as possible if he came before then, the ideal plan was for our little one (still unnamed) to “wait” until my parents arrived. It appeared as though I was losing my mucus plug steadily each day that week. I would have tinged blood and tissue when I wiped or went to the bathroom. It was clear my body was getting ready.
March 14th came and everything was fairly uneventful. The next day was Thursday and I had finally booked a prenatal massage that I could get to since my parents could watch the kids.
I remember the lengthy drive to get to the massage place and telling the therapist that I was 39 weeks and 3 days so pretty much ready to pop. I tried to keep myself awake to enjoy the pampering but my body was the most relaxed it had been in months that the 60 minutes seemed to fly by. When it ended I almost sulked as I walked back to my SUV wishing I had booked the 90 minutes. I got in the car, sat in the driver’s seat and took a deep breath and noticed I was shaking slightly.
And then, something just happened inside of me, it felt like a waterfall just started pouring over me and I couldn’t breath or control my emotional, mental or physical reactions. I started bawling hysterically and uncontrollably. I felt all my hormones rushing in, my body tingling and my heart pulsing. I felt the waves (contractions) and Braxton Hicks that I had been having pretty much with every movement for the entire pregnancy, deepening and lengthening. I felt the pressure of the life force running out of room inside of me, weighing down on my pelvic floor as I continued to sob in terror, confusion and pure joy at the miracle my body had been going through during this and every pregnancy, and now the life changing journey it was now seemingly starting to embark on.
“This is it. This is it. He is coming.” I kept saying out loud between sobs as I envisioned how the next 12 hours would unfold. It’s time to call the doula, it’s time to call my midwife. They will set up a birth pool. I will labor. I have to start my hypnobirthing tracks. Baby is posterior (sunny side up) so I will probably have back labor again. It’s 5 o’clock and I need to drive through rush hour on the 85 to get home… The relaxed state I was in during my massage seemed to have transformed into feelings of panic and urgency.
I called one of my best friends, Cierra, a supreme confidante of mine who also had pregnancies close together, the last being a homebirth. I spilled out everything that happened and how I was feeling as I was trying to stay calm driving home. I don’t remember much about our conversation except one thing she said, her voice in complete awe and love and marvel, despite my seemingly panicked and blubbering state:
“Sweet Mama, The veil is lifting”
Her words summed up the sensory overload I was having. I probably sobbed a bit harder but the imagery of some sacred veil lifting and my birthing self emerging made me feel empowered. I was so glad to have a friend like Cierra to call in these moments. The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful and I started to feel like I had some bearing over what my body was going through. As a birthing mother, I feel like there is always some sort of doubt that I know if it’s “actually happening” I guess I debated it all the way home. Once I pulled into the garage 30 minutes later, things had seemingly fizzled and I was pretty sure things would not pick up for the rest of the day.
Friday March 16th
I remember it was a beautiful and perfect day out: warm, sunny and breezy. I had a Midwife appointment around 11AM and we planned to bring the kids to Runway Park to play before and I would go to my appointment while my parents stayed with John Fredrick and Juliet and then I would come back with lunch.
My midwife appointment was pretty standard and Sarah said baby boy was long. His feet were somewhere kicking my ribcage and his head was knocking on the doors of my pelvic floor. This meant a lot of sharp breathing and a lot of lightning crotch. He was still sunny side up despite my spinning baby attempts and the thought of back labor again seriously frightened me but I fully trusted my birthing team to help me through it. I asked Carrie and Sarah if they had any “telltale signs” that a woman was going to go into labor soon and they talked to me about the “moon face” and retaining water but nothing surefire. [They would later reveal to me that after I left, Sarah said, “She has the moon face!”]
I knew my telltale signs and that was that I get an inhuman burst of energy. It’s noticeable and I tend to accomplish a ridiculous amount of things, crash, nap and then have a baby. I couldn’t tell anything quite yet at this point. I drove back to Runway Park and we had Chick Fil A at the picnic benches. Our routine in the afternoon was to put my then 19 month old John Fredrick and freshly 1 year old Juliet down for naps. I felt myself crashing and fell into a deep, sedated nap.
I woke up, waddled to the bathroom and there it was. A large chunk of my mucus plug fell out. I felt woozy, warm, and tingly. I started breathing a little shorter. I didn’t freak out this time. But this time – it was time. This was very similar to Juliet’s labor. The deep sleep (I’m not a napper usually) and the mucus plug. It was Friday and John sometimes comes home a bit earlier. The afternoon before Juliet was born when I was in early labor, John, John Fredrick and I went on a family walk around the neighborhood and it was such a sweet memory that I wanted to do that again, just to remember these last moments as a family of four. I waddled around the house for the afternoon feeling the waves coming and trying my best to ignore and breathe through them. My parents made dinner and we all sat down to eat around 5:30. They all conversed around me normally but I was in a state. I could hardly eat and the waves required my concentration. I would close my eyes and hum and moaned in low tones periodically. John Fredrick, my deep empath, felt something was off. During one wave when I had my eyes closed he yelled:
“Mommy! Mommy! MOMMY, WAKE UP!”
I could feel his amusement but also felt his slight worry.
“I’m OK, Baby. Mommy is just getting ready. Your baby brother is coming soon”
At about 6PM I went up to my room and sat in my glider. I stared at my birth affirmations on cue cards on my wall. I put in my earphones and listened to my hypnobirthing tracks for my birthing time. I worked so hard at practicing my hypnobirthing every single day for months. I think it was to the point where I put a lot of pressure on myself that I wanted to have that “perfect” hypnobirth because I was in fact, very fearful of labor. Juliet’s labor was very hard on me and her postpartum was directly related to it. Her labor and birth left me with a bit of a cold, damp, dark spot in my heart, despite the fact that I absolutely love and am a zealot for birth. Looking back, my choice for hypnobirthing was very much fear based and I don’t think I was able to admit it at the time. But I was scared, I felt out of control and having a third baby in three years truly does a number on your body and your psyche. I do have to say that I did well in the early stages of birthing time with my scripts. I was able to keep myself in a calm state. I sat in my chair and rocked and breathed and released and the room got darker as the sun set. My Mom and John came in to periodically check on me. John asked if we needed to call the midwife and in my doubtful state I said, “I don’t know yet.” I think homebirth was still intimidating to me. I think I had a lot of insecurities that I couldn’t do it and I would let my homebirthing team down because I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to call and it not be “real” and have them think I was a panicked spaz (which I was) and waste everyone’s time. These are my true thoughts and feelings. As much as I tried to prepare myself, I did not go into this birthing time with confidence and without fear. My third baby, and labor felt as lost and lonely as the first one. Perhaps this is just how I birth, perceiving myself as weak and having to break through that wall one contraction at a time.
Moving on. Around 6:30PM, I decided I would call Julie, my doula and see what she thought. I knew she would know when to call the midwife and at least give me support while I felt totally unsure of where I was at. Julie said she was nearby at an appointment but nearly on her way home. She asked me if I wanted her to stop by. I froze in my “Maybe it’s not real” state. I think I may have told her, “No, I’m good. I think. I can call you in a little while if things progress” She lives a ways a way, so she asked me again just to be sure, and then said, “I will come by and we can see from there” [Doula note: my appointment was literally five minutes from Jill’s home so the timing was perfect!]
Julie arrived around 7-7:30PM. She sat with me in my dim room. I listened to my scripts. She sat and watched. I seriously wondered if I needed to act as a host because I was thinking she must be dang bored there watching me pretty much do nothing. It was nearing bedtime in the house, and I usually nursed John Fredrick to sleep. But I knew that wasn’t going to happen tonight. I could hardly sit still through a wave and the added stimulation of nursing was not going to help. I sat on his bed and gave him warm hugs, I let him nurse for a few minutes and through a few contractions until I couldn’t handle it anymore. Daddy would lie down with him and Grandma and Grandpa would be there for him as well if he needed them.
I went back to my room, and Julie continued to watch. I was tired. Utterly exhausted. I wanted to go to sleep and I told Julie that.
“So go to sleep” she said.
I laid down on my bed and dozed off, in and out of contractions. I’m not sure how long I was lying down for but then I got annoyed. I was falling asleep but these contractions kept waking me up. I had a burning question.
“Julie, so what do I do? I’m so tired. I feel like I could go to sleep. I want to go to sleep! But what about my contractions? They keep waking me up but I am falling asleep at the same time.’” I was utterly confused. Should I walk around and get them going? Or lie down and rest, because that is what I wanted to truly do.
Then Julie told me the most life altering bit of birthing wisdom that changed the course of my birthing time. (This is ALL going to be very much paraphrased)
“Well, for third babies…You have a little bit more control.”
I was floored.
“What? What do you mean control?” Suddenly I had options!
She continued very thoughtfully.
“Well, you can lie down and go to sleep if you want to. You’ll rest a bit, wake up and have your baby in the morning. OR, you can get up right now, and we can walk around and get your contractions going and you can have your baby tonight. So you can choose to either sleep now, and have your baby in the morning. Or get up and move around now, have your baby and then get some sleep.”
I was completely dumbfounded. Seriously though, I wanted to sleep. So badly. But then that would just be drawing out this birthing time. I knew what the better choice was. But God knows how much I really prefer having a baby during daytime.
“Ok. Let’s get up and get this going. Let’s get Carrie here”
Carrie and Sarah – my midwife and her apprentice, arrived around 10PM. I couldn’t believe how time was passing. So far, the labor hadn’t been so bad…at least in comparison to my first and second. I felt a few intense and painful contractions in my back, but Julie was helping me get in positions to alleviate them as much as possible. I did a lot of leaning over the bed and over the birthing ball. I remember she put me in some position facing the wall that would help get the contractions going more, but it would intensify and hell yeah it definitely did and that position was nixed. Julie was amazing. She had already called my friend who was going to photograph the birth. Three hours into what I thought to be “active labor” I anticipated hours and hours on end. John Fredrick’s labor was 13 hours. Juliet’s was 8 in total. I thought I had a way’s to go, and it still didn’t feel “intense” When Carrie checked me for the first time, she said with a smile,
And I almost jumped for joy! Three hours and 8cm. How can I possibly be in transition? This was way “easier” than my first two. Maybe the hypnobirthing was working?
John was not with me for most of what I have already told, but by this point I was needing him. John Fredrick was still at a challenging phase to put to bed and I knew he was having a rough night. He could hear all the action going on since his bedroom was right next to us. I couldn’t focus on him obviously but I knew it was not going to go as smoothly for him as I had hoped for.
“Julie, can you go to my parents’ room and ask them to stay with John Fredrick? I need John here now”
Things were starting to intensify. The back pains started to get deeper. At this point, I started to seriously doubt myself. My hypnobirthing wasn’t working and the pain was starting to swallow me. But I wasn’t “allowed” to use the word pain. And I tried not to. But I felt pain. So much pain, I remember at one point standing in the bathroom through a contraction, saying over and over again, “It hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts it hurts!” And it made me feel sad and defeated. I didn’t want pain and read so many birth stories about women birthing in this peaceful, blissful state and I wanted to be them. I thought if I walked the walk and talked the talk, maybe I could make this labor what I wanted it. But I was starting to hate the pain. I wanted to cry. I felt desperate. This started a bit of a dark period of my labor. I paced my room. The essential oils were fading. I was hot. I was cold. Open the window. Close the window. I want to go in the bathroom. Let me sit on the toilet. I hate the toilet. I’m having a contraction. Put pressure on my back! Harder! I don’t want to go in the tub. I don’t like it. I feel like a wet fish in the tub and I hate it. This hurts. This f*cking hurts. Ugh. Why isn’t the hypnobirthing working for me? I can’t do this. I hate the earphone hanging from my ear and why can’t I release like I have been doing for months? Why isn’t my humming and low tones working? When is this going to end?
My friend, Kayla, was photographing during these moments, and I can still feel the agony I was in when I look at some of these photos. I remember standing in the bathroom with her and John. It was at this point I realized the time and date. Kayla said to John
“You might get your St-Patrick’s Day Baby!”
John was equally excited and said to me,
“Babe! Twenty more minutes until midnight! You can do this”
It was a little comic relief amidst the drama of birth.
I don’t know what time it was and I don’t know how I was progressing. Was I doing ok? How was I doing? In my three experiences during labor, I have concluded that an unmedicated labor has some sort of ability to disassociate the concept and constraints of time. The waves, the contractions, the mental and emotional ups and downs, to me, resembles something very similar to a psychedelically-induced state…it’s pretty amazing to try and remember things, and almost feel like the whole experience was a fuzzy dream full of moments where the highs peak and where they sink down low and then peak over and over again.
Carrie and Sarah were getting the tub ready. Carrie. Carrie has the warmest, most tender, sincere and heartfelt way about her. And it truly shone through during my birthing time. She truly seemed to be so filled with joy to be there with me which is probably why her calling is midwifery. I felt like I was in agony. She looked like she was so excited. I remember having a moment where I fell apart to her. The pain was just so real.
“Carrie, this is so hard. It’s so hard!” I sobbed.
“Yes, sweetie. I know. It’s hard. It is SO hard.”
She smiled at me as I broke down crying and she hugged me in this warm soft hug that I needed so bad.
“Carrie, it hurts so bad. I didn’t want it to hurt again but it hurts so much!”
She nodded her head earnestly and kept smiling and affirming
“Yes I know, sweetie. I know it hurts. But you’re doing so good!”
And she went on to tell me about some of her birthing times. I don’t want to botch up her story too much but she shared about how she made her husband cry she was so mean to him during her labor. I laughed and I loved her for that. I needed a laugh. I needed someone to affirm that I wasn’t the only one that feels like I’m going crazy when I’m in labor. I knew a homebirth with her was the right decision in that moment.
Those last two centimeters were hard. I can still remember vividly the dimness of my room and the light from the bathroom. I remember hearing John Fredrick screaming wildly at the top of his lungs for hours and hours. Both my parents were in bed with him trying to help him. He was watching Paw Patrol at 11PM on my mom’s ipad while I labored on. Yes, he was awake screaming the entire time I was in labor. A lot of people asked me if that was difficult to deal with, but honestly, I had bigger things on my mind at the time. I knew he would be fine…he was just my little man who was worried about his Mama.
The tub was ready. It was beautiful. But was I ready? I was sick and tired of pacing around so why not. I got into the tub and it was a comfortable temperature. I tried to go on my back. Nope. The most comfortable position was on my knees with my elbows and arms propped up on the side of the tub. I laid there for what seemed like hours but it really was only minutes. I cried there and whimpered and thought I was dying. And there in that position, completely surrendered, I knew I had gotten past the hurdle of transition/transformation.
I was now fully dilated and I didn’t even need anyone to check me to know. I was familiar with this mental clarity, this feeling of euphoria and total hyperawareness. The contractions were still coming, still strong but I had found this zone of complete peace and silence and I was safe. I can only describe it as this complete and utter silence in my brain. During transition, everything is loud in my head, like the sounds of a busy city during rush hour, senses totally overloaded. But once transition ended, it was like I was enveloped in the silence of some ascetic monastery and the silence was just beautiful. I embraced it and sunk into those waves, which I knew were the ones I was going to have to start working with soon. I stared at my birthing wall and the dozens of pictures and affirmations and scripture I had posted. But only one had my attention and I focused on that card for what seemed like hours. I sunk into silence through waves and meditated on this verse that was posted on my wall and the Lord gave me peace, strength and endurance:
But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze
I was reciting this verse and every time a contraction swept over me, or threatened to set me ablaze, this verse brought me total calm. In these few quite minutes, I felt total calm. Like I could breathe. I could hear myself and my thoughts. I almost wasn’t in labor anymore it was so calming to be in this state.
My waters broke and I felt that familiar gush and I saw the fluid in the tub. I immediately went back onto my knees and assumed my previous position hoping to get back to that peaceful silent state..but that wasn’t going to happen because this wasn’t going to take long. Everything started to get loud again in my brain as every part of my body started to prepare for my body to open up as wide as it ever will and birth my baby. As soon as I got myself vertical, I felt my baby descending down the birth canal fast and furious. There is nothing more physically, emotionally, and emotionally intense than birthing your baby. It has been almost a year that I am writing this, and the emotions, waves, intensity and sensations still dwell in my physical memory bank and it makes my skin tingle.
“I feel him coming down! He is coming” I started to holler.
It’s strange the physical, emotional and mental reactions that labor elicits. Much of it for me, was terror because I’m so in tune with my emotions, when I know something is coming, every single part of me reacts and its overwhelming. But as soon as Jacob “slithered” down my birth canal, it felt like pure business. Let’s DO this. But wait, it’s terrifying and it hurts but it needs to get DONE. NOW.
I felt him right there pressing against my pelvic floor. I knew I needed a contraction to start pushing him out. As much as I hate contractions, I called out for them. As soon as I felt one, I bore down and felt my body pushing in that familiar way that was so foreign to me just 2.5 years earlier. I remember when I tried pushing with John Fredrick (my first), I hated it. I didn’t know how to push and I didn’t want to, it was too hard. But seriously woman, you have no choice, you just gotta push on and get through it to the other side and meet your baby. I feel like that is kind of an analogy of my journey of Motherhood in the past three years. I don’t want to do this. It’s too hard. I don’t know what I’m doing. But seriously, Mama, you have no choice. You just need to push on. And I felt like this growth I had between baby 1 and now baby 3 was definitely real. Motherhood is just pushing on even when you feel like you nothing left in you, you just have to get it done. I felt every inch of him moving down. I felt him crowning as I just worked through and for every contraction. I screamed, moaned, hollered but I knew what I had to do. I had my birth team literally behind me cheering me on. I felt his head being born. I waited, waited for that next contraction. Maybe secretly in my head saying, “I’m going to do this in one or two more contractions. I’m going to do this” They came and I pushed, and I pushed, and Jacob was born. I heard his cry, loud and frantic. His cord was very short, just like Juliet’s. I was still on my knees and he was born behind me and I couldn’t get to him because the cord was too short. He was screaming, crying for me.
“What do I need to do to hold him?”
My birth team explained: I had to get my leg over the cord and flip on my back so I did. And as soon as I held that baby boy, he stopped crying. I will ALWAYS remember that first moment with Jacob. He was the only baby of mine that did that immediately. As soon as he was in my arms, he stopped crying. Like he knew, I was his Mama, and he was safe. Baby boy, you are safe. Every minute of my love hate relationship with labor is all love as soon as my baby is in my arms.
Jacob’s birth was healing, transformative, and empowering. It has almost been a year and I could beat myself up for not sharing it sooner. But I had a big year of growing. Of questioning how much of my life I wanted to share. Was it a story that was ready or mature enough to share yet. Was I mature enough to write it, let alone share it? Social media is fickle. Full of boastfulness and insincerity and the need to prove one’s self. I’m not immune to it and I get sucked in. But after three babies, something inside me wanted to hide in this beautiful state of wanting to protect and shield myself and my kids from the world, just for a bit longer. After Jacob’s birth and this whole year has been such a growing time for me in those respects. It was not boastful, it was humbling. Did I want to subject my kids to being overshared and what was my intent and where was my heart in all of it anyway?
But tonight, I just felt an urge to retell his birth story to myself. The light and memory of the night grows dim so maybe it’s not as accurate as I would have liked it, but I am satisfied that I’m now writing it “from the other side” Nearly on the eve of his 1st birthday. This year has flown by and for much of it, I felt like a lost child trying to navigate my identity as a mother of 3 children under 3. This birth story was the beginning of it. I am so beyond thankful for the birth team I had: Carrie, Julie, Sarah, John and Kayla. I wish I could hug them all and be brought back to those moments in my dim bedroom. Even that dark phase, I wish I could relive it. I wish I could honestly relive all of my births and provide one extra set of warm, working hands to lay on my birthing self to tell myself it’s Ok. You are going to grow from this. This is growing you. You are like a chrysalis, everything after these moments are just going to be full of love, pain, lostness, desperation but also beauty, purpose, renewal, self-preservation, and arms full of babies that you grew, you birthed and that need you in this crazy world. “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.” – Esther 4:14. I know God has called me into this role of Motherhood and He chose this timing of three kids in three years as a way to grow me in the most intense and meaningful of ways. That’s how my life has always been and that’s how God has always gotten through to me: intense, at my wits end, and with a beautiful and dramatic transformation.
Jacob’s homebirth was a beautiful display of this very insecure Mama even in her 3rd birthing time, totally lost in the mystery of labor…and being fully supported and loved by the team that surrounded her. All women deserve this kind of care in their birthing time and I felt so blessed to be able to meet my baby boy Jacob for the first time at home. This birth allowed me to embrace that there is no “perfect” labor and birth. There is no standard to meet, no decibel too loud, no right or wrong language. There is just the birthing time and the woman unraveling waiting meeting herself as a new entity with a new role and title: mother. Yes is the answer. Yes, I would do it again over and over again to feel the raw miracle and magic that women have in being the gateway of new life in the world. Jacob was our “surprise!” baby through and through and his birth and his presence has been so healing and fulfilling for our family. The days are hard and the nights are hard but this journey is beyond beautiful and I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity.
*This birth story was originally published on Jill’s website and shared here with permission.