In the last post, Natural is Always Best, we were talking about why not to get an epidural during labor and how beautiful natural childbirth is. We ended with an amazing quote from Ina May Gaskin saying, “When you are injured and feel pain, its message is ‘Run away!’ or ‘Fight!’ You are being damaged. This is survival information. The pain of labor and birth has an entirely different message. It says, ‘Relax your pelvic muscles. Let go. Surrender. Go with the flow. Don’t fight this. It’s bigger than you.'” Because I have not had the privilege of experiencing the beauty of childbirth yet, I am posting a remarkable birth story that is a perfect example of what Ina May says. I know you will enjoy it! Thank you Jessica for letting me share this!
Eve’s Birth Story
Eve Amelie was born to us on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 6:21pm, weighing 8lbs 8oz and measuring 21 ¾ inches long.
Eve’s birth story would be hollow if I failed to explain the events that unfolded in the months preceding her arrival, so at the risk of boring you to death, I’m including lots of details- details that I believe are riddled with the fingerprints of God.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been passionate about childbirth and deeply convicted that it is a natural and extremely empowering event in the life of a woman that holds great significance in God. I’ve desperately desired to open to the fullness of the process, allowing it to pull me into deep realms of revelation and awaken me to the Divine intent buried within it.
I attempted a natural delivery with my son, Jonah, but due to gestational hypertension and failure to progress it ultimately became extremely eventful and complicated- requiring Pitocin, an epidural, and 3 hours of pushing. He miraculously emerged during the final push they gave me before wheeling me away for an emergency c-section (38 hours elapsed between my water breaking and delivery). To top it all off, Jonah wasn’t breathing at birth and required a stay in the NICU. Then several months after my less than ideal delivery I had a miscarriage. Needless to say, I began to question whether or not my body had the capacity to healthily progress through the various stages of pregnancy and the labor process.
The first two trimesters of my pregnancy with Eve were marred with doubt and fear. I couldn’t even speak of her delivery during that time. There was an ache and darkness attached in those days to the manner in which she would ultimately emerge from my womb. Every tinge of hope that surfaced in my heart for an entirely natural unfolding was quickly suffocated by remembrance of how my body had failed in the past.
About 2 months prior to Eve’s due date, I began to sense the activity of the Divine all around. It seemed there was an urgency in God to rebuild a foundation of faith within me and restore all the enemy had stolen. He came to me with a fury of love and affection. He sang over me songs of redemption and healing and I spilled my fear and longing at his feet. He began to overwhelm me with the peace of his presence and reveal himself to me through people and circumstance.
One afternoon I stopped by to visit my friend, Rebecca, after the arrival of her daughter, Kiyah, and she shared her birth video with me. The surrender and peace of God I saw in Rebecca’s face even during the most taxing phase of the delivery process brought me to tears. I left her house that day weeping with desire to experience the same.
That night while researching childbirth I stumbled across Ina May Gaskin, the guru of midwives and a natural birth advocate. I immediately ordered and began reading her book Guide to Childbirth. I felt confidence and excitement being resurrected within me as I progressed through the pages. Reading story after story of healthy and fulfilling deliveries where women were surrounded by the encouragement and affirmation not only of their spouse but also other women began to stir in me a desire to be accompanied by a doula during my labor with Eve.
One Saturday morning, I woke early with a weightiness of heart that felt much like conviction and thoughts of a doula swirling in my mind. I Googled “doula Nashville” and immediately discovered Gaylea McDougal, a doula/monitrice who appeared to not only have incredible skill and experience in the realm of women’s health, pregnancy and childbirth but also shared my passion for God and belief that the process of bearing and delivering new life is deeply spiritual. She co-developed a Christian childbirth class called Alpha Childbirth, which is centered upon the divine nature of pregnancy and delivery and focuses on how to rely on God’s Word and surrender to his will and way in the process. I wept as I read through her website. My spirit was filled with peace merely at the thought of laboring with her by my side. I felt overwhelmed in God, like he had divinely led me to her and had high purpose in crossing our paths. I immediately wrote her and her response moved me deeply. She spoke to my fear and breathed life into me with her words. She agreed to be my doula, and I enrolled in her childbirth class.
The subsequent weeks I bathed in the word of God and worship and felt fear and doubt gradually dissipating. I listened to a CD created by Gaylea over and over, which is full of scriptural affirmation. I would weep as she spoke hope and truth over me and my spirit would burn as if it had been ignited with the refining fire of God. Gaylea challenged me to pray very specific prayers, so I did. I asked God to align the systems of my body, to keep my blood pressure low, to perfectly position Eve for delivery, to divinely initiate and carry out the labor process, and to prevent me from tearing. I asked him for a specific team of people to surround me and my husband during labor and delivery- for Gaylea, my friend, Lindsey, and midwife, Lauren, who attended Jonah’s birth- all of whom are extraordinary women of faith. I even ventured to ask for Room 9 at Vanderbilt, the only room with a birthing tub.
During the last three weeks of my pregnancy, I saw several spikes in my blood pressure. The highest of which was 156/109. Each time the numbers reached over 140/90 it would take my breath. It felt much like defeat, yet my spirit refused to relent. I felt convicted that Eve’s story would not parallel Jonah’s in this way, that God could and would sustain my body until the end, so I fought on my knees and asked others to do the same.
The weekend prior to my due date I felt overwhelmed with a darkness I didn’t understand. I attempted to analyze it and settled on the assumption that it was a combination of shifting hormones, fear that each day was leading me to a more and more compromised physical state, fear also that my body would be unable to initiate the birth process on its own, and frustration with not knowing the day or time God was going to call Eve from the womb. I decided it must just be the unpredictability of the season that was wearing on me, and to an extent it was all of those things, yet something deeper was happening that reached my conscience while rocking Jonah that Sunday night.
Jonah had been extra desirous of my attention for several days. He had requested to be held and rocked and laid still in my arms for hours. I wondered quietly if he sensed the changes to come. This particular night he struggled to fall asleep. I heard him crying for me from his bed. I went in and his sob was deep. I got a bottle, laid him across my lap and rocked him. I felt the warmth of his face against my bear arm and his hand on my chest. I sensed that he was absorbing my affection and I was doing to the same with him. I was flooded in those moments with images of nursing him . . . Where did the time go? How did he so quickly go from my belly to this state of independence? I rocked him until he fell asleep, then laid him down in his bed and I broke. I ran downstairs so I wouldn’t wake anyone and I sobbed harder than I have in a long time. My heart was grieving as if I were losing him. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like together we were approaching a death of some sort. Death of all we’d ever known.
I felt desperate to hold on to what we shared and I couldn’t help but grieve the change that was inevitably coming. The tears were seemingly endless. I was aware that Eve would ultimately enhance our lives, and I did desire her. She was just as much my baby as Jonah, but in those final days alone with him, she felt like a threat. As much as I ached to have her in my arms, when I was really honest, I was perfectly content with her where she was as well. The familiarity and sanctity of all I had known was protected as long as she was in me. I didn’t have to ration my attention and affection. I could mindlessly meet all her needs and fulfill Jonah’s as well.
I spilled this raw emotion at the feet of Jesus that night. I wept and wept and wept until all my strength was gone. I released fear and relinquished control. I opened entirely to God and his spirit of peace poured over me.
After that I stopped counting the days and watching for signs of Eve’s impending arrival in my body. I came to terms with the fact my pregnancy could drag on another 2 weeks, and I genuinely became ok with it. I was free of fear, free of restlessness, free of desire to control and manipulate the timing of God.
Tuesday, May 10th, I had an appointment with my midwife, Lauren. I assumed she would offer to strip my membranes (a natural induction method) as it’s rather routine for a 40-week check. I consulted Gaylea the night before to see what her thoughts were on the matter. She urged me to wait, reiterating our common desire to allow God to entirely initiate the labor process. And so I did. I shared with Lauren at that appointment how desperately I desired to entirely relinquish control and allow God to be God in the initiation of Eve’s birth. We laughed about the long list of natural induction methods that consume a mothers mind and are often suggested by practioners in the final weeks of pregnancy. Lauren was extremely supportive of my desire not to interfere and simply wait. She gently checked me (so gently in fact I had absolutely no cramping or spotting afterward). I was a loose 2cm and 75% effaced.
That night my brother in law and his girlfriend came over for dinner. Toward the end of our time together I began to feel my contraction gradually intensifying. I didn’t take them seriously as I had been contracting for weeks and just assumed I was still days (maybe even weeks) away from actual labor.
Around midnight my contractions became rhythmic, every 10 minutes like clockwork, and they were strong enough to capture my attention. It felt to me like waves of the energy and power of God building and crashing over and over in my abdomen. A cramping sensation would begin in my back and wrap around the lower half of my belly as a burning sensation would build in the top of my abdomen and work its way down until pressure filled my pelvis. I laid in bed riding these waves of energy alone with God in the darkness. After each one I whispered thanks and praise to him. I felt his delight and pleasure and could almost see him dancing over me as I surrendered to his power in my body.
By 2:30am my contractions had steadily reached 5 minutes apart and were intense enough that I needed to roll over to my hands and knees and moan to relax through them. I woke Allen and he was wonderful. He applied counter pressure to my lower back during contractions and we laughed and thanked God together when they released. There was such a spirit of joy in our bedroom that night. No fear at all. Just gratitude to God and excitement that he was Lording over the birth of Eve.
By 4:30 or 5am, we decided to text Gaylea to let her know we were in labor. She seemed excited and said she would meet us at our place soon. I was thrilled that she wasn’t tied up with another client as there were 3 of us due within the same window of time and one of her clients had been experiencing symptoms of labor the previous day! I text Lindsey as well and she was thrilled! She had plans to leave for vacation on Friday and we were both worried she would miss Eve’s birth. If you’re counting, that’s 3 perfectly answered prayers: God initiates labor (check), Gaylea attends birth (check), Lindsey attends birth (check). . . At this point I’m so ridiculously in awe of God I can’t stop smiling and laughing. His faithfulness couldn’t have been more evident.
We called Allen’s parents to come pick up Jonah and I called my mom to tell her we were in labor. Within the hour our house was full of people. Our parents, Gaylea, Lindsey, Jonah . . . There was such a spirit of peace and joy. I worked through contractions every 4-5 minutes and we talked and laughed between them.
By 10am or so it became evident that it was time for the house to clear out with the exception of my laboring team. My mom left her purse on the stairwell, so I grabbed it and ran outside to give it to her. A contraction began to build, so I dropped her purse on the driveway, ran back in, closed the door and squatted into its power. At the peak my water broke and began to spill from me. What a moment that was!
Lindsey photographed, videoed and offered comic relief, while Allen and Gaylea helped me relax and surrender to each contraction. Gaylea offered lots of tools to relieve pain and ease discomfort. She introduced various positions, used a TENS unit on my lower back, massaged lavender/peppermint oil into my scalp and combed it through my hair with her fingers (absolutely heavenly!), she saturated a towel with the oils and water and I buried my face in it during contractions. The scent powerfully relieved the tension in my body. She massaged me and applied counter pressure when needed, but the thing that stands out in my mind the most about Gaylea that day was the spirit of peace she carried. It radiated through her eyes and touch and words. She was patient, tender, and full of love. She had absolute trust and faith in the birth process and total confidence that God was lording over the birth of Eve.
Between each contraction we laughed and talked and laughed some more. Allen, Gaylea, and Lindsey didn’t simply sit and watch with somber faces as if they were waiting for me to take my final breath nor did they grimace when they saw me in pain, and I was glad. I wanted peace and joy to rule and reign in the process of Eve’s delivery, and it absolutely did. I felt as if our spirits were consistently rejoicing together in the beauty and power and faithfulness of our God as he revealed himself in and through my body.
Gaylea monitored my blood pressure and Eve’s vitals. Both were perfectly healthy! (prayer #4 answered)
By about 2:30pm my contractions intensified to the point that I felt their power curling the upper half of my body around my abdomen. The force and pressure that accompanied them was unbelievable! We moved upstairs to prevent my animalistic moaning from being heard on the street. Every 3-4 minutes they would surge through me and I felt their effectiveness in my pelvis. The pressure intensified with each one.
About an hour later Gaylea checked me to see how far I had progressed. I was 6 almost 7cm, and we decided it was probably time to transfer to the hospital. We weren’t in a state of panic at all. Allen and Lindsey calmly loaded our vehicles while Gaylea taught me to blow through contractions and resist the urge to push and succumb to the totality of their power. She said to say “C-C-C” and blow like you’re blowing out candles.
The car ride to the hospital was interesting. I didn’t feel panicked. I was in perfect peace, but the intensity of my contractions continued to build to the point that I wondered how much longer I could “C-C” and blow them away. They were overpowering me it seemed, but I continued to focus on maintaining control.
We pulled into valet at the hospital. I got out of the car, held tightly to Allen’s neck and squatted into a contraction. I’m pretty sure everyone watching thought I was about to have my baby on the sidewalk! Allen put me in a wheelchair and pushed me as fast as he could to labor and delivery. I had another contraction in the elevator. The people riding with us looked panicked. We pulled up to the L&D window, told the nurse my name, and she said wheel her to Room 9! (I prayed for Room 9, remember?!). Allen pushed me into the room and guess who was standing there? Lauren! The midwife I had prayed for!! She just happened to be on-call that day. . . Do you see the activity of God?! I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. I hugged her and thanked God, then squatted by the bed into another contraction.
I crawled on the bed and she checked me. I was 9 ½ cm. Only a cervical lip remained. I couldn’t believe it! I was so close to meeting my baby! I hugged the back of the bed through several contractions and we all laughed and talked between them. I felt absolutely high on God! The joy and excitement I felt was incomparable to anything I’d ever felt prior.
Lauren offered to fill the birthing tub, and though it sounded quite romantic and had been a dream of mine for a long time, my contractions felt too intense at that point to get in to the water. I decided instead to move to the toilet (not quite as glamorous, I know). Allen put toilet paper under my feet for leverage. It was hysterical! Eventually, Lauren decided it would be easier to deliver Eve on a birthing stool than on the toilet, so I moved to a stool in the room. Gaylea sat behind me and played with my hair. Allen was beside me caressing me with his hands and Lauren was at my feet coaching me along.
Evidentially, my water bag had an upper tear because it was bulging at the bottom just a couple inches inside me; it felt much like a water balloon. Lauren offered to break it, and I was fine with that, but she looked me in the eyes after a bit of discussion and said, “Let’s just wait, Jes.” I felt her saying with the intensity of her gaze, “Let’s let God do it ALL!” And he did! A couple of contractions later, my water sprayed all over her! It filled her shoes, saturated her socks and pants. Allen said it was a bit traumatic even for him and he didn’t get doused in it. That was such a moment of victory! I felt again the pleasure of God all around me. He was delivering Eve from the womb with absolutely no assistance!
Several contractions later, it became apparent that my cervical lip wasn’t going away in the position I was in, so we decided it would be best for me to stand. The power of my contractions at that point made my legs tremble. It was difficult to support the weight of my body, even with the help of Lauren, Allen, and Gaylea, so I moved to the bed. I pushed on my hands and knees, then on my right side and finally my left. It had been about an hour and a half and that crazy lip still hadn’t dissolved. I began to get a bit discouraged, wondering how much longer it would take. My body had been pushing for so long (since we were at the house, really). Lauren reassured me that though I had been pushing against the lip, there was no swelling. She encouraged me with her words and eyes and touch as did Allen and Gaylea.
Eventually, the lip dissolved with a bit of help from Lauren and Eve was free to move down. I’ll never forget the feeling of fullness in my pelvis as Eve’s body descended. She felt extraordinarily large in comparison to my anatomy. My bones were stretching to accommodate her, and I momentarily wondered if they had the capacity to contain her without breaking. The excitement in everyone’s voice empowered me to press on. I’ll never forget the way Lauren, Gaylea, and Allen’s touch soothed me between contractions during that final phase of delivery. I felt their hands caressing my thighs and arms and hair and it made me feel so safe- like I wasn’t alone.
I’m not sure how many contractions came and went before Eve finally crowned, but when she did, Lauren made eye contact with me and with a serious tone said, “Do NOT push. Hold her there, Jes.” (or something to that effect) And I remember thinking, “Ok! I’ll do anything you say! My life (and perineum) are in your hands.” I literally felt like Eve’s body was about to split me in half. About 4 or 5 minutes elapsed between that contraction and the next, which felt like an extraordinarily long time but it gave my skin ample time to stretch to accommodate Eve.
With the next contraction Lauren told me to push gently, I did and Eve’s head was delivered. Lauren removed the cord from around her neck and one push later, her shoulders and body slithered out! I’ll never forget that feeling. The relief, the overwhelming sense of accomplishment, the wonder and awe that swept over me! Lauren said, “Reach down and receive your baby, Jes.” Then Allen and Lauren laid Eve on my bare belly. The warmth of her overwhelmed my senses. I was finally skin to skin with the life that had been evolving in me for so long, with the girl who had captured my heart so many months ago.
Allen looked at me with tears in his eyes. We were so overwhelmed with the faithfulness of God to us. I couldn’t have felt closer to him. I was flooded with remembrance of every tear and prayer, every loss and trial that led us to that moment of shared victory.
Lauren checked me, and miraculously I didn’t need one stitch! Allen cut the cord once it stopped pulsating. I held Eve and couldn’t stop thanking God for her life and for sustaining us through the process. He answered every detail of every prayer I whispered. He revealed himself to me. He restored all the enemy had stolen in seasons prior. He delivered me as he delivered Eve.
Praise be to God for overwhelming us with evidence that he sees and hears and reigns over every intricate detail of the processes of life!