This was Jessica's second home birth and I got to be with her for both (Here is Will's story). It's been SUCH an honor and gift to watch their family grow.
Also, I brought my newborn along to her birth at her invitation, since she knew I was a bit nervous about photographing a birth so soon after my own. So that explains the other baby you'll see in the photos below.
Jessica's written birth story follows the images. Please take a moment to comment to encourage and congratulate her!
I was nervous. Really nervous. I didn’t want to go for the non-stress test (NST). At 42 weeks and 2 days, I didn’t want to hear that everything was fine with the baby and to just keep waiting patiently for labor to start. But I also didn’t want to find out my baby wasn’t doing well and that I needed to be induced or have a cesarean. In my mind, it was basically a lose-lose scenario I was facing. No matter what the result, I wasn’t going to be happy.
I had tried almost everything to get this baby out – eating spicy food, fresh pineapple, six dates a day from 38 weeks, walking, bouncing on my birth ball, stairs, sex, drinking really strong red raspberry leaf tea, massaging pressure points with essential oils, chiropractic adjustments, pleading and bargaining with God, and at 41 weeks and 3 days, I had my midwife sweep my membranes. You could say I was getting desperate. I felt like I had been pregnant forever and would be pregnant forever. The excitement over meeting my baby girl had dwindled because I had lost hope that she was ever going to come. It didn’t help that I started having prodromal/practice labor at 38 weeks. Or that there had been at least three times where I was convinced it was baby day, so we shipped our three-year old son Will off to my mom’s. Andy was getting really good at setting up the room where I was planning to give birth to our daughter… and then having to put it all away when my contractions would peter out.
The boredom. I was so bored. My “to do before baby” list had been done for weeks. I was sick of take-out food and wanted to eat the freezer meals I had prepped for postpartum. I was hormonal and crying every day. I was short-tempered with Will. I was just over it. And I was incredibly sick of people telling me their stories of how long they were pregnant or telling me to “enjoy these last days with Will” or “enjoy the last baby kicks”. Clearly none of them had gone past their due dates. I was so over my pregnancy.
I was also sure my birth team was about to fire me. I had sent so many texts so many different times to give them the “heads up” that I was afraid they wouldn’t take me seriously when (if??) the day actually came. Or more likely, I would hold off on calling them when I actually was in labor and end up giving birth alone.
Our midwife, Jennifer knew I was at the end of my rope. On Sunday (February 5), she dropped off some homeopathics for me to use to try to kick-start labor. “Just remember, if your body isn’t ready, they won’t do anything,” she told me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’d heard that already. I just wanted to try it. I was running out of things to try.
The next morning (February 6), I woke up with a lower back ache and what felt like period cramps. I thought, “Okay, great. Here we go again.” I didn’t really put much thought into it, sent Andy off to work, and proceeded with a typical Monday: breakfast for me and Will, playing with Will as best I could at 42 weeks pregnant, etc. I was supposed to go for my NST that afternoon, but hadn’t yet heard what time. We had been living one day at a time, not knowing when I might go into labor, so I hadn’t showered the night before or really had a plan for how to get ready for my appointment while wrangling my energetic three-year old. I ended up calling my mom and asking if she could come for an hour so I could shower and get ready. My plan was to actually “get ready” for my appointment – do my hair and put on make-up (what?!) so I didn’t look like the worn down, 42-weeks pregnant lady that I certainly was and felt like. I had been having some contractions that morning, but since I’d been having them for weeks, I again ignored it.
When I was in the shower, I noticed that a couple of the contractions were getting stronger than the ones earlier that morning. I decided to start keeping an eye on the clock to see if there was any consistency to them. I noticed after my shower that I had a missed call from the hospital regarding scheduling my NST, so after getting dressed, I called back. As I sat on hold, I had another stronger contraction… 10 minutes after the previous one. By the end of the call, I knew what time my NST was scheduled for (1:30 that afternoon), and was on my knees in front of the couch after another stronger contraction… 8 minutes after the previous one. Maybe I wouldn’t be going for the NST? I could only hope.
At 10:00, I sent Andy a text putting him on alert that I’d been having contractions every 8-10 minutes consistently, and suggested he work from home that afternoon. When he didn’t reply after a few minutes, I called. He hadn’t seen my text. I told him my contractions were 8-10 minutes apart. He said he had some work to finish up but would then head home. He listened as I breathed through a contraction. He said he could leave work in about an hour and we said goodbye. I thought, “Okay, that’s fine. This will probably peter out anyway.” My mom had come upstairs while I was finishing up my call with Andy and another contraction started. I told her she should probably take Will to her house, and I helped to pack up his things. Will asked me if his baby sister was coming today, and I told him “maybe”. My mom wasn’t 100% comfortable leaving me by myself, but I assured her that even if I was in labor, I wouldn’t be having the baby in the next hour.
Soon after my mom and Will left, I called my midwife to let her know what time the NST was scheduled for (she was planning to meet me at the hospital) and to let her know about my contractions. She told me to keep her posted. Lucky for me, my midwife’s birth assistant lives next door to us and was my doula for Will’s birth. I sent her a text asking if she could come over until Andy got home from work in about an hour. I sent my doula, Emily, a text apologizing for the short notice and asking if she could come as soon as possible. I also sent our photographer a text and let her know what was going on as well. I was pretty sure this was it, but was still hesitant. I hated putting everyone on alert, but thought I’d better just in case.
Less than an hour after my first call to him, I called Andy again to see what his status was – was he still at work or on his way home? At this point, my contractions had really picked up and were 3-4 minutes apart. He had just left work, which meant it would be about 20 minutes until he was home. Our neighbor and birth assistant arrived shortly after that call and found me sitting on my birth ball leaning on the bed with my laptop playing my birth playlist. Our doula arrived soon after, and then Andy was home.
After being at our house for about an hour, our neighbor/birth assistant left to go pick up her babysitter. I was about to ask her if she thought I would be having the baby today, then realized if she was getting her babysitter, it meant I most likely was. This was real. Our doula reheated some macaroni and cheese for me to eat and I had some fresh pineapple – all between contractions that were getting increasingly more intense. Around 12:30 our neighbor/birth assistant returned, and our midwife arrived shortly thereafter.
I spent the next hour and a half laboring on my birth ball, on hands and knees, on the toilet, and standing/leaning on Andy. As a doula myself, I realized I was silently “doula-ing” myself after each contraction, recognizing where I was tensing up and telling myself during the next contraction to try to relax more. At one point, while in the bathroom, I picked up on discussions happening outside the bathroom about getting the pool set-up. At 2:00, I asked if I could get into the pool and was told I could. Immediately, I felt the baby moving around, trying to get into the ideal position to be born. Our photographer arrived and had her 8 week old baby girl with her. I had told her she could bring her along and hearing her daughter’s coos and cries I think helped with getting my oxytocin flowing for birthing my own baby girl. A second midwife arrived around 2:00 as well. I continued laboring in the pool. My contractions were so strong, and I kept reminding myself to breathe and to try and relax through each one. Andy was on one side of me holding my hand, and our doula was on the other side holding my hand and giving me drinks of water between contractions. Each contraction felt stronger than the one before it and it was getting harder and harder to relax. The words, “I can’t do this” left my mouth several times.
I felt nauseated. I was shaking. I felt like I needed to push, but how could that be? It was too soon. I didn’t want to push if my cervix wasn’t dilated all the way, if my body wasn’t ready. How could it be ready already? Our midwife told me that if I felt like I needed to push, I could push. Pushing hurt. Pushing was scary. I didn’t want to tear like I did with Will’s birth. Our midwife knew this and reminded me to push gently and to blow through my contractions. It was so hard. At one point, I lost my rhythm and breath. I screamed. I wanted to stand up and run away from my labor. But I couldn’t. My labor was me – my body – doing the work to birth my daughter. I kept at it.
I never got to feel Will’s head as he was being born due to the position in which I was pushing. But when my midwife told me my daughter’s head was out and that I could reach down and feel her, I did. She told me that when I felt ready, I could push the rest of her body out. One push. One more push. And there she was! “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” was all I could say after such an intense labor. I wasn’t pregnant anymore! My baby was here! Raela Jane was here. Finally! Hallelujah!
(I had hoped for my baby to be born en caul (in the bag of waters) and she almost was! Somewhere between birthing her head and shoulders, the bag broke. I had been unaware of it, but Andy saw it happen.)
Although it had felt like I had been pushing for an hour, it had only been 15 minutes! And after delivering the placenta and getting checked out, I was told I didn’t have any tears and didn’t need any stitches! Praise the Lord!
Raela had a great latch and nursed right away. Andy took her while I used the bathroom, got dressed, and settled in on our bed. Our midwife did the newborn exam right there on our bed. Everyone guessed at how much she would weigh – my guess being the highest at 9 lbs 1 oz. When our midwife weighed Raela, she exclaimed, “Oh, Jessica!” and I thought my guess had been right on the mark. Then she said, “She’s 9 lbs 12 oz!” Oh my goodness! I seriously had just pushed an almost 10 lb baby out my vagina and didn’t tear?!?! I was beyond thankful!
Raela was perfect. A little extra wrinkly and dry from being 16 days past her estimated due date, but everything else was perfect. A six hour labor and 15 minutes of pushing, and she was here. Our doula had made my requested tatertot breakfast casserole for us to eat that night, and our birth team started heading their own separate ways after Andy, Raela and I were settled in. My mom and Will came for a short visit and to bring a birthday cake for Raela. Upon meeting his sister, Will exclaimed, “I waited a long time for baby sister to get here!” So did we, buddy. So did we.