When our daughter James Katherine was born, I didn’t speak to God for a week.
Although I had every reason to be thankful and thrilled that we had a successful homebirth and healthy baby, I wrestled with sadness, anger, and confusion in the days following James' birth. So much of her birth didn’t make sense to me. I thought surely she would arrive sooner than her older sister did and that this labor would be quicker, too, but I was wrong on both accounts. Despite both my body and heart feeling so completely worn down, I carried a baby beyond 41 weeks (again). She was ten days overdue, beating Tessa by one day. When I finally did go into labor, it took almost twice as long to get her here. Those seventeen hours felt like an eternity compared to my previous ten-hour labor.
The part I had the hardest time understanding about James' birth was just how much more intense, painful, and gut-wrenching this birth was. This was not the peaceful, quiet homebirth I had imagined and planned for. It was long and hard and loud. It made my previous natural, unmedicated hospital birth look like a walk in the park. There were so many times throughout the labor I just begged for it to end. While my internal mantra during Tessa's birth was “I can do this,” the words on repeat in my head during James’ birth was an adamant “I can’t.” I was immensely discouraged and terrified.
Even after James was born and I was finally able to hold her in my arms, many tears of sadness were shed. I had a hard time processing everything that had just happened and so I held a lot in, letting some of that sorrow turn into anger. I was so blinded by my unmet expectations that I failed to recognize God’s goodness and presence or even truly celebrate the gift of bringing my daughter into this world.
I naively believed that because things didn’t go my way, God must not have been on my side. But if only I had been able to let go of my pride and flawed perceptions, I would’ve realized sooner that not only was he on my side, but he was by my side every step of the way.
Although the labor was painstakingly hard and not at all like I had imagined, James’ birth is a story of power, beauty, strength, and triumph. Her first breaths marked the beginning of a new chapter in my life, one of transcendence and transformation. I was forced to rise above what I had thought I was capable of, and I can now say I’ve had a taste of an inner strength I never knew I could have.
I'm so thankful that my dearest friend Heather was there to capture every moment so that I can look back and remember these things. The photos she took not only tell the story of James' birth, but also highlight both my strength and the strength of my husband, who labored alongside me every step of the way to help bring our daughter earthside. When I look at these photos I feel like I am watching a love story unfold between the three of us. It was beautiful, almost magical, and something I am proud to share with the world.
My hope is that both my story and these photos will empower and inspire others, just as birth stories and birth photography have empowered and inspired me so many times before. What better antidote is there to the lies we've been fed about our bodies than seeing women work with their bodies to bring life into this world? There really is so much beauty to be found in the unapologetic surrender and power that birth requires.
Warning: this post does contain uncensored photos of birth.
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James' birth story begins on a Monday at 1:30 in the morning. I had fallen asleep the night before around 11:00, pretty certain I would go into labor sometime before sunrise, and I was right. As soon as I was awakened by contractions, I excitedly jumped out of bed and sat on the birth ball. My husband Grant slept soundly nearby. I debated whether I should wake him up, but ended up waiting two hours just to be sure I really was in labor. During this time I labored alone in the dark and listened to the worship playlist I had made for James' birth through my earphones. One of the first songs that played became a sort of prayer to the Lord, a declaration of my surrender to him.
You've brought me to the end of myself
This has been the longest road
Just when my hallelujah was tired
You gave me a new song
I'm letting go
I'm letting go
I'm letting go
Falling into You
"Letting Go" by Steffany Gretzinger
I had no idea of just how much surrender was about to be required of me.
I finally woke up Grant at 3:30am and called my midwife soon after. At this point, my contractions were about ten minutes apart. She anticipated this labor to be somewhat fast and told me to call her with updates every two hours. The next phone call I made was to my mom, who was tasked with taking care of Tessa for the duration of the labor. I knew Tessa’s little nineteen-month-old mind couldn't comprehend what was happening so I asked my mom to keep her away from Grant and I until after the baby was born. My mom arrived at the house at about 7:00am, just in time to be there when Tessa woke up. I then called Heather and told her to get ready to come over with her camera. This baby was finally coming!
Thinking we could speed up some of my early labor by walking, Grant and I took a stroll around the neighborhood, which I quickly decided I was not enjoying. There was just something a little too awkward about knowing our neighbors were watching me groan and lean against mailboxes in my bathrobe. After returning home, my contractions picked up and were now six or seven minutes apart.
It was around this point that my midwife confessed through tears over the phone that she wasn't going to be able to make it for the birth. She had unexpectedly woken up with a swollen knee that literally rendered her unable to walk. Doing my best to not give in to anxiety, I told her that I understood and I would be alright with the other midwife, Debbie, who I had met several times before. I was, of course, a little disappointed, but I was too excited to fixate on it. Besides this one hiccup, everything was going as I expected and I fully believed I'd be holding our baby in just a few hours.
Because I was running on just two hours of sleep, I knew it would be a good idea to rest up, especially because I was already feeling pretty exhausted. I called Debbie one more time and she and her assistant Olivia decided to head on over, which prompted me to tell Heather to come too. While I waited for them, I took a twenty minute nap and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to keep on laboring. But at 10:30am, just as everybody arrived, my contractions seemed to suddenly stop.
Debbie first took my blood pressure and used a handheld Doppler to listen for the baby's heartbeat, then checked my cervix for dilation. I asked how dilated I was, but with a somewhat sly smile she said nothing. She knew that I knew that hearing how dilated I was would either discourage me or give me false hope that I could predict the trajectory of this labor. Taking this piece of knowledge with her, Debbie and her assistant Olivia went to the nearby Whole Foods for lunch. Heather went downstairs to be with Tessa and my mom. Because my contractions had slowed down, Grant and I were left alone to try to pick things back up vis a vis a little "mommy and daddy time." I won't specify what that entailed, but I will just say that anyone who thinks birth can't be an intimate experience is highly mistaken!
We were left alone for quite some time, about two hours, during which I shared with Grant how discouraged I already was that this wasn't progressing faster. As I was feeling overcome with emotion, Debbie and Olivia returned and helped affirm that I was making progress. Having their supportive and encouraging words, as well as Heather's, meant a lot to me throughout the labor. From the outside looking in, they knew better than I did that I was doing a great job at working with each contraction. But as somebody who built up this idea in her head of how things were supposed to go, I felt like I was failing. I needed their support like I needed air.
Without having my team there with me, and especially Grant, I don't know how much longer or harder or perhaps dangerous the birth might've been. I clung to Grant's whispers in my ear like my life depended on it. Through each contraction, he spoke words of peace over me. "Relax, baby. Let it go.” “Pain is progress.” “Our baby is moving down and you're going to meet them soon.” “You’re beautiful.” “You’re powerful." “You’re my queen.” I can’t count the number of times his whispers brought a smile to my face as each wave subsided. He wore out his wrists rubbing my lower back in the same circular motion he had become so familiar with from Tessa's birth. In fact a lot of this labor was familiar to us -- the never-ending back rub, the birthing language he used, the productive noises I made, the way I stroked my hands on Grant’s arm for sensory distraction, the worship playlist playing in the background. It was as if we were fine tuned to labor in this way. This is how we bring our children into the world.
As far as where and how I labored, I tried a lot of different positions. I much preferred to labor standing up, either holding onto the wall or the frame of the doorway or standing over the bed with the birth ball as a support, but my feet eventually began to ache. My whole body was tired. I was still running on just a couple of hours of sleep and I could feel it. I was also extremely hungry throughout the labor, constantly requesting (sometimes whining and even demanding, which we all had a laugh about later) that somebody run downstairs to the kitchen to get me something to eat. Chicken pot pie, sweet potatoes, an apple -- anything to hold my hunger at bay and help me keep my energy up.
As afternoon turned into evening, I felt a sudden surge of emotion because I realized I was going to be holding my baby soon. It was no longer just a dream; this was really happening. I was briefly filled with such immense joy and overwhelming excitement that I began to sob. But the moment eventually passed and I was once again in the throes of labor pains. At this point the contractions were coming faster and faster, each one more agonizing than the last. I was making uncontrollable and low, almost cow-like, moans and noises that I hadn’t remembered making during my last birth, and that startled me. When I saw Debbie and Olivia bring out the birth stool and begin to lay plastic sheets down on the floor, I knew I was in transition and it would not be long before I'd start to feel the urge to push. And yet the next hour or so felt like an eternity.
During this time Debbie asked if I wanted her to check my cervix and I said no. I was too overcome with fear and pain. I was also asked if I wanted to try sitting on the birth stool to help open me up those last couple of centimeters, and I again said no (although I did eventually try it and immediately hated it). Grant confessed after James was born that I was pretty frustrating to deal with at this point. Typical of a woman in transition, I was unsure of everything — how I wanted to labor, where I wanted to labor, whether I even could keep on with the labor. Every suggestion that was thrown at me I turned down, and yet I couldn't make any decisions for myself either. I felt helpless and so immensely terrified. Even though the end was in sight, it felt like a million miles away.
At approximately 6:00pm, it was suggested to me that I begin to push. Unsure of how I felt about it, I said I could try. I wasn't yet feeling that strong urge that I remembered having during my last birth and that confused me, but I trusted that Debbie knew how to guide women through pushing and that she would guide me through, too.
I moved onto the bed and laid on my side. Olivia supported one leg by placing it on her shoulder. Grant sat behind me on the bed, still rubbing my lower back. Heather took photos and held my hand. Debbie was at the foot of the bed, watching my progress.
A few contractions came while I was in this position and I felt pain like I had never felt before. I was no longer just moaning and groaning. I was screaming, practically roaring. I thought that these sort of noises are just something Hollywood use to portray birth. I didn't actually believe that women did this in real life. After all, I had already had a baby! I thought I knew better than most how exaggerated all of those movies and shows really are. And yet I came to realize just how unique every birth experience truly is and that even the most prepared women with the best laboring techniques can't quite control what comes out of them. There is a ferocity that labor requires, and that ferocity can take on many forms. When I moved onto my hands and knees on the bed and began really pushing this baby out, I saw just how much ferocity I was capable of.
Grant tried his hardest to coach me and get me to use the "proper" pushing techniques we were taught, the ones I had used without a problem during Tessa's birth -- tucking your chin to your chest and holding your breath as you push -- but I just couldn't do it. As much as I wanted to cooperate, my body had been taken over by primal instincts. I felt completely out of control. I was roaring this baby out of me and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I simply had to surrender.
After some time I began to feel so much pressure that I thought surely this baby's head was crowning. I kept asking, "do you see the head?" between pushes, but everyone just kept telling me to keep on pushing. My waters, which had not yet broken up until this point, were trickling out of me with each push. Finally I felt that infamous "ring of fire," something I had little recollection of from Tessa's birth. In this moment, I thought to myself that there was no way I could keep doing this, but I knew the only way out was through, so I pushed again. And again. And again. Little pushes, like my midwife suggested. I suppose this was to prevent tearing (which worked, praise God).
As our baby's head emerged, I heard everyone behind me cheering, and most of all I heard Grant urging me on. "Come on, baby! You're so close! She's right there! Push! Push! Push!" The excitement in his voice was the best thing I had heard all day. I suddenly had a renewed surge of motivation and I ecstatically continued to push, my fears replaced by joy.
When I could feel our baby's body beginning to slowly leave mine, I truly was on cloud nine. I began to rock back and forth, repeatedly screaming, "Yes! Yes! Yes!" It was practically orgasmic, which I had heard birth could be but didn't expect to experience for myself. And yet here I was, baring both body and soul in what I can only describe as one of the most intimate, blissful, and satisfying experiences of my life. As the rest of her body slithered out into Grant's and Debbie's hands, the relief I felt was like no other.
On May 21, 2018 at 6:32 pm, weighing 9 pounds 2 ounces, James Katherine Ereddia was born.
She was passed up to me from between my legs and I was then helped onto my back, where she and I rested together. Mama and baby, united at last. And now came the fun part -- finding out who this mysterious baby is!
Although Grant knew right away, I held off on finding out James' gender for about ten minutes, during which I delivered the placenta (which went home with Olivia to be turned into capsules). After I felt a little more rested and emotionally prepared, I finally allowed Grant to share the news with me. The thing about choosing to not find out the gender during your pregnancy is that a lot of people automatically assume you don't have a preference. But that could not have been further from the truth. Even though I would have celebrated either way, I so badly wanted another daughter, the beautiful James Katherine I had been hoping for and envisioning for so long. I'm sure you can imagine how sweet and exciting the news was to me when I finally learned that that's exactly who I was holding.
"Are you ready?" Grant said to me, to which I responded with a smile and a "Yes."
"Say hello to baby James."
My face immediately crumpled and tears sprang to my eyes. "Really?" I replied. After so much of this birth being not at all what I expected, a part of me couldn't believe it. I was surprised in the best way possible and completely overcome with joy.
After having some time to rest with Jamie, Debbie helped me get that first latch. I had forgotten how difficult (and frustrating) breastfeeding can be. Even though it had only been five months since I last breastfed Tessa, I had forgotten what it felt like, not to mention this was an entirely different baby, a newborn, who had never breastfed before. She and I were going to have to become acquainted with one another, just as Tessa and I had to when she was first born.
Then came Daddy's turn to hold his baby girl. While Grant and Jamie had some skin-to-skin time, I showered and got clean (hallelujah!), put on my favorite nightgown, and climbed back into bed, which Debbie and Olivia had stripped down to fresh, clean linens. Supplies were packed up, dirty linens were collected in a trash bag, and the bedroom was tidied. Heather made her exit at about the same time Tessa was brought back home from my parents' house. I loved hearing Tessa squealing and babbling from the other side of our bedroom door as my mom put her down for bed in the next room. I didn't realize until that moment how much I missed her, and I looked forward to the morning when I'd finally get to hold her again and introduce her to the famous "baby in Mommy's belly."
After the newborn exam, during which we learned that I had just delivered a NINE-POUND baby, my parents came in for a brief moment to meet James. It was now 9:00pm and I was fading fast, utterly exhausted from the day's events. Debbie and Olivia made their exit at this time, leaving Grant and I alone in the house with our brand new bundle of joy. And so began this new season in our parenting journey.
In the days that followed I struggled and cried and laughed a lot. Starting over with another baby is no easy feat and especially when your eldest is still in diapers, too. And yet there were so many happy moments, like when Tessa first met her little sister and when my milk came in and I heard those big hungry gulps and even when we took both girls in the double stroller down the street to Publix to buy brownies. It was exciting and chaotic and incredibly exhausting. I'm so thankful that Grant was able to be home with us for the first two weeks and that he helped me get the rest and recuperation I needed.
We talked a lot about our birth experience, which helped me process my emotions, both positive and negative. My two-week follow-up appointment with my midwife was also incredibly helpful and affirming. She reminded me that even though this birth was unlike what I had thought it'd be, it was still a beautiful and powerful birth and a story I ought to own. One way I'm choosing to own my story is by sharing it with all of you today.
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I want to end this post by thanking the people who supported and loved on me during this pregnancy and labor.
Constance, Debbie, and Olivia -- thank you for showing me a new side to birth that I had hungered to know, for educating and affirming me, and for journeying with me every step of the way.
Heather -- thank you for being the best friend I could count on to listen, to share wisdom and encouragement, and to be by my side as I brought James into the world. You captured moments I will cherish forever, but most of all, I cherish our friendship.
Family and friends -- thank you for supporting my dream to have a homebirth and for helping me prepare throughout my pregnancy for this transition. I know that our girls are surrounded by so many people who they can count on to love and be there for them because of how well everyone has loved and been there for Grant and I.
Grant, my love -- I've said it once before, the day Tessa was born, and I'll say it again. I could have a hundred babies with you by my side. You are an incredible partner and I couldn't have asked for a better father for our children. I am amazed at your courage, love, and strength when it comes to our family. I love you.