On October 2nd, we met our beautiful baby girl for the first time. It’s still hard to wrap my sleepy new mom brain around that event—turns out birth is a profoundly amazing experience, and I’m forever blown away by all the mamas who have done it once or twice or five or ten times. The whole thing is worth processing and writing down and remembering…but when it’s all over you go home with tiny human, and that doesn’t leave much space for contemplation (who knew?). So today I’m taking advantage of sweet newborn naps and snuggles to piece together the story of Shiloh Grace, our most precious little gift.
I wasn’t a gung-ho natural birth mama from the beginning of my pregnancy—in fact, having heard the “just get the epidural” comments from multiple moms, I leaned toward a pretty standard idea of labor and delivery that didn’t include hot tubs, midwives, or unmedicated pain. Nevertheless, I decided to do some reading around anyway, and so as we spent the first trimester trying to find a good OBGYN (that I felt comfortable with and who was in-network with our insurance, a near impossible combination) I found myself immersed in more and more positive and beautiful birth stories…and it turned out most of them took a much more natural and holistic approach. Somewhere along the line, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was something I could do, after all.
My own research and reading combined with a serious struggle to find an OB got us started on the search for midwifery care at a birth center. I was nearly 28 weeks along when we finally got ourselves sorted out and landed at a birth center staffed by the sweetest midwives we could have asked for, and so we officially transferred care and went all-in for the natural birth I knew I wanted to try. Around the same time we were able to bring a doula on board and started attending a weekly birth class with two other natural-minded couples—so my descent into all things “crunchy” was just about complete!
I trekked through the hot Texas summer months with my gigantic belly and a growing excitement for our baby girl’s arrival toward the end of September. Her due date rolled around on the 23rd, and I reluctantly gave up on the hope of delivering early (and thus escaping the extreme discomfort of the third trimester). As we headed into the “overdue” days, I officially embraced the hermit life to avoid any pregnancy-related comments in public—I mean, at 39 weeks pregnant you really don’t want or need any reminders about your incredibly pregnant state of being, since the swelling and fatigue and general hugeness tend to be reminder enough.
On Saturday the 30th, one week past due, I began to suspect that really this baby just wanted an October birthday. That thought was further confirmed when I woke up around midnight that evening with—gasp—real contractions! (All the pregnancy articles say that when you have a real contraction, you’ll know it—turns out they’re pretty much right.) I figured things were still pretty tame, and since the next morning was Sunday and Cameron’s big work day I snuck out of bed quietly to take a shower and kick back on the couch with a heating pad. A few hours and quite a few contractions later I felt sleepy enough to make it back to bed for little down time before our Sunday morning alarm went off.
I filled Cameron in on the situation—contractions still weren’t regular enough to begin timing—and we decided he’d go ahead and head to church for worship practice and service. I camped out on the couch with my heating pad, trying not to be overly hopeful about Shiloh’s timing since I knew early labor could drag on for awhile.
Cameron came back to the house before service to check on me, and his kind coworkers called to insist that he stay with me and let the worship team play their backup set without him. The afternoon passed fairly uneventfully—I called my midwife to let her know what was going on, and she advised me to try to sleep and lay low till contractions were regularly five minutes apart or less. So we stayed on the couch with a contraction timer, and the waiting game continued. (Sleeping through contractions, however, is easier said than done, and I headed into Sunday evening with very little rest over the past 24 hours.)
Toward evening time I needed a change of pace, so we decided to snuggle up in bed and watch a movie. We hadn’t made it very into the Sandlot far before contractions seemed to pick up, and each one left me trying new ways to get comfortable and breathe through the pain (“You’re killing me, smalls,” I informed Shiloh). Eventually I hopped back in the shower where the warm water brought welcome relief, and Cameron gave our midwife another call to see whether we should head toward our birth center. I was convinced we still needed to wait it out at home, but Salli suggested it wouldn’t hurt to come in and see where things were at since the drive to the center would take us a little over an hour. If we still had a ways to go, we could grab a hotel room nearby and stay on call.
So we piled into the car with a bag full of clothes and snacks and an empty carseat and headed out. I learned very quickly that riding in the passenger seat of a small car gives you very few options for managing painful contractions, and by the time we made it to the birth center around 8:00 pm I was tired and beginning to feel much more focused through each contraction. As we headed in to be checked out, I still felt certain we’d hear I was only barely dilated and needed to wait things out before coming back. So when my midwife checked on my progress and told me I was 80% effaced and 7 centimeters dilated, I was relieved and excited and nervous all at once—and more than a little encouraged that I’d already made it so far, and dealing with the pain hadn’t been too overwhelming.
My midwives started running water in the tub, and we settled in for the long haul. I hopped in the water as soon as possible—lesson learned quickly for this natural birth mama: warm water is your best and closest friend. For awhile, the water eased the pain of the contractions so much that being there, with the soft lighting and oils diffusing and our birth playlist running in the background, felt beautifully relaxing. Cameron camped out next to the tub, and for awhile the two of us shared quiet, uninterrupted moments (something I was grateful for at the time, and cherish even more in hindsight).
My mom arrived soon after that, with our doula Katie close behind. The timing couldn’t have been better, since I was headed into transition and Katie’s relaxation techniques were enough to reassure me that I could still do this. Another lesson learned: hire a doula, ladies. They seriously rock.
At this point, everything I’d heard about the intensity of natural birth hit home hard, and the next couple of hours seemed excruciatingly slow. Cameron and Katie, labor support team extraordinaire, talked and massaged me through each contraction; even so, the sheer bigness of the sensations of labor was quickly wearing me down. I vividly remember reaching a point where each contraction overwhelmed me with the thought that I could not do this. More than once I almost spoke it out loud to Cameron, but each time I decided to make it through just one more contraction before voicing my discouragement—it seemed like saying it out loud would be some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
A little after midnight, several hours after our arrival, my water finally broke. I’d read that often there’s a relief afterwards as some of the pressure is released, but I still felt as if I was right in the thick of transition for about another hour. I thought at the time how funny it was that in between these incredibly intense sensations I would sit back in the tub and nod off to sleep—my body was completely exhausted, and I felt a little apprehensive knowing that the final push (literally) was still to come.
Other than the initial exam when we arrived, my midwives allowed me to labor naturally and without any exams or interventions (apart from checking on baby’s heartbeat and my vitals), and so when I felt the urge to push about 1:20am they remained watchful but allowed me to let my body do its thing—which was a pretty incredible experience as a first time mama, since I didn’t even know what my body needed to be doing and yet I found myself doing it anyway. Labor and delivery is such an amazing testament to the truly amazing God who designed our physical bodies!
I’ve heard and read plenty of “I pushed three times and then my baby was out” stories, but mine certainly isn’t one of them (it’s worth noting, though, that pushing was the best part of my natural delivery—instead of pain, it felt good to experience pressure and be able to do something to relieve it). At some point in between contractions, I moved from the tub to the bed to try pushing in a different position, and while I hated leaving the water the change ended up being helpful. Between each contraction, the midwives would tell me what a fantastic job I was doing and how close we were to being done—and as Cameron watched Shiloh’s head come out the excitement in his voice was enough to get me through the last leg. I remember thinking that the “ring of fire” I’d heard of so often wasn’t nearly as awful as I’d thought it would be, and then with one final push at 2:46am Shiloh Grace was out and earthside!
There aren’t words for the moment when the little one you’ve carried so long inside is suddenly out, nestled on your chest and blinking those big beautiful eyes that grab your heart in a totally new and yet familiar way—or for the first precious minutes as a family of three, completely enamored with the new life that has already profoundly shaped the life you’ve created together. I don’t even know how long we lay there, just enjoying and soaking in and marveling, Shiloh Grace snuggled in contentedly and sizing up the two of us with wide open eyes.
After all the initial checks and cleanup were done, everyone retreated to give the three of us space for a well-earned nap. By 10:30am, we were cleared to leave and ready to head home. It was a bit surreal, really—no matter how much reading and learning and prep work you’ve done, it seems like there should be some sort of pass/fail test to be able to walk off with full responsibility for a tiny new human. Shiloh seems to be a fan of car rides, though, so we made it home uneventfully (and ready for some serious nap time).
It’s been two weeks and two days now since October 2nd. I won’t say those first few days and even these first two weeks have been easy, but we have been surrounded by so much love and support and encouragement (and delicious casserole) that I’m constantly reminded of how tenderly God carries his children through transition, even ones that involve very little sleep and plenty of overwhelming moments.
Shiloh Grace, you are the most precious gift your daddy and I have been given. You are oh so loved by so many, and I am so excited to see you grow and learn and blossom. Your heavenly Father has crafted you perfectly and intricately and beautifully…how amazing it will be to be the ones to guide you in discovering who He is, and who you are. We love you, little one!
“How can someone so small hold my heart so tightly? I don’t even know you, but I love you completely.” (JJ Heller)