Joanna Elise Gabriella Birth Story

Our precious little girl is such a miracle! She is our sixth baby, but the first that we have been given the gift of bringing into the world and shepherding. Part of me cannot believe it has been almost a year—I had planned to do this much sooner—it has actually been written since May, but alas! ☺). However, the gift of learning the art of surrender with which Debbie and Claudia blessed me with has proved a more challenging lesson than I thought—which serves to prove how much I need to focus on embracing surrender. I am realizing that part of the reason that I could not write this until four months after her birth really had very little to do with having not watched the video all the way through (although it was enlightening—there were a few things that did not remember and that I was surprised by—namely that I was actually pretty sweet to everyone, even funny at times, that I called out to The Lord for help when I needed it most, and that I could transition so quickly to being this little one's mama—more on that later), but that I still feel I'm in the birth process. Being postpartum has been the most challenging time in my life and in many ways I will always be postpartum and so this growing and changing will always be a part of me for the better-this is just an element that I could never have imagined. However, I feIt I could finally write this because I felt myself waking up to who I truly am-though I know that may not make much sense, but just a few weeks before she was four months, I felt I began to see myself clearly and quite possibly for the first time because the feeling was identical to seeing her for the first time—part 'oh, so there you are—it's you' and 'who are you, sweet one?'-a strong sense of knowing coupled with the realization that there is a vastness yet unknown which has produced a strong desire to learn how to know more fully. I know this is supposed to be our birth story and not a window into my process of 'forging the smithy of my soul’—just beware that I cannot help it, and perhaps you may find that you won't be able to either, because my journey with this child has been just that and more. 

So, we had had the 40 week appointment with Claudia on Tuesday the 22nd of January and I was so annoyed at having to drive down there again (Claudia said she understood and was not offended in the least=]). I remember Claudia saying that when we would look back we would realize how close we were, but by this point even though I knew that first time moms, especially with no internal exams, etc, often go late, even though I could hardly sit because her head was so low, even though I had lost a pound from the last visit—I was plum convinced that I would never have a baby. We had had many "warm-up" days where I would think 'this is it' only to have everything slow down again-I knew we were close, but I was so frustrated and while I loved-truly loved-having this little one inside of me and a huge part of me did not want her to be on the outside, I had gotten to that place where even though I knew it would be harder (I had no idea how right I was)—I was ready. Tim and I were finished reading books and watching videos and were ready to make our own. 

Wednesday, the 23rd, on our evening walk one of our two pugs collapsed and was dead by the time we got to the vet. I have to mention this because it was super significant in how we went into the birth and we believe part of God's providence for preparing us to be there for Joanna. Cami was only 4 and had been acting funny the last few weeks (I had actually really grieved a few weeks prior convinced that she was gonna die) but she had just had her annual check-up two days prior and been declared 'the healthiest pug they'd ever seen', so we had decided not to worry. After she had just kinda crumpled, Tim picked her up to carry her the rest of the walk and a bit later she arched her back, let out this cry, and went limp. Tim ran with her to the car while I waddled with our other pug, Lula, as fast as we could. As we drove to the vet, she was in my lap limp and not breathing. We were praying while calling out to her to breathe, over and over, begging her to hang on and stay with us. Those of you who have animals understand how much a part of your family they are-we were beside ourselves. When we got to the clinic she was already dead—she had become incontinent on me on the way, so we knew, but were hoping against hope. The vet told us it was probably a blood clot and that sometimes genetically they have those and that there is nothing we could have done. Our grief was raw, but our previous children had taught us much about how to grieve, the importance of it, of not rushing, of being in it and supporting each other through it. Sadly, it felt like a familiar road as we spent time with her, prepared her box, wept, and buried her. For me, that night it was harder watching Tim and Lula grieve than it was for me (when we came home, I laid Cami in her and Lula's bed so that Lula could figure out she was gone—she finally came over, sniffed her, tried to move her, looked up at me—I explained—then finally laid down beside her and she rested her head on her for a few minutes, we did not put Cami in the box until Lula got up—hopefully this will never happen again, but Lula has done remarkably well and I really believe it is because she got to 'understand’)—I kept thinking 'at least it's not our baby, we still have our baby'. It may have helped too that I had grieved a couple of weeks before. Anyways, we were up until 2:30 am burying her, Tim went into work late on Thursday and it was such a hard day cause everything was reminding us of her and all our dog activities now just had one dog. Tim came home late and that was sad too cause Cami always made a huge deal about him coming home-she was really his dog, so we were up late again on Thursday night.

I had just gotten up to pee for the umpteenth time on Friday morning and was falling back asleep when I felt a different kind of cramp—granted I had been feeling everything under the sun since about 38 weeks and had been 'convinced' they were real, but this felt different in a way that I can not put words too. So, I lay there thinking, "could this actually be it??" And "what great timing, we are exhausted", but then excited, maybe this baby will bring joy that will heal our pain more quickly, and then realizing that I could not fall back asleep—maybe these were it. I felt Tim stir so I woke him and asked if he was ready to have a baby that day—he asked if my water had broken yet and I said I don't think so...ok funny story I had wondered if my waters had broken the previous Sunday after our time of loving and then again earlier that week, it was not a lot, but I thought maybe they were leaking...ha! As we were discussing this and my uncertainty again, at 5:30 am they actually broke and then I wondered how in the world I could have thought they had broken before! Yes, we had already put the plastic sheet on the bed. =] When my water broke—I said "oh Tim my water actually just broke, and he said are you sure and I said, oh yes, and then I spontaneously said, "here we go, chica". 

Now this was significant to me because I had been convinced that the baby was a boy—I had had 6 dreams to back me up, granted in one of the first ones Tim had showed up with a little girl in a backpack, his one dream, had been of a girl, and in my final dream the baby began as a boy, then switched to a toddler girl, but I was still convinced the baby was a boy. I understand now the deep reasons why, but that would be getting way down the rabbit trail. So suffice it to say that that last dream had helped me because I had started thinking g in the very last weeks while consuming a crazy amount of strawberries, what if this baby is a girl?—will that mean that I don't know her? In that dream where the baby became a toddler, I never say her face, but we were having a wonderful conversation and most importantly the emotional connection was there, I felt bonded to and in love with her, and her with me, so that had put my heart at rest. However, when I heard myself say "chica", I thought surely she's not a girl, Tim heard me, but said nothing and I think we both kinda pushed it aside and began the day. I was 41 weeks exactly by our first count, but by our revised due date I was 40+5.

There had been, I think, two days when Tim had stayed home because we thought I was in labor and here my waters and broken, but we decided that it could be awhile (sure enough was!), so he might as well go in and I would call him if he needed to come home. I tried timing contractions for awhile, but just could not get into it-clue number one for me for next time (if we are so blessed)—if I am into timing my contractions it is not real. =] I labored fine by myself all day, we had been soo prepared soo many times that there was nothing to do, I do remember that I tried to nap, ignored my phone—which resulted in my sweet neighbor coming in (she has a key for when we are out of town, but she and our other neighbor were worried cause Tim had gone to work and I did not answer) she found me in bed and I think the conversation went something like this:

Jan, standing in bedroom doorway: "Sara are you ok? You did not reply to my text."

Me, still lying in bed: "Yes, I know, I'm fine. I'm just trying to rest now because I am in labor and I don't want to get exhausted too soon. We will let you know if we need you."

Jan, kinda shocked: "umm, ok are you sure you are fine? Is Tim gonna be coming home soon? Will your midwife be coming?"

Me: "Yes, I will call them soon. I'm good for now. I'm going to sleep. Thank you, we love you, bye" 

LOL!!! Bless her for not freaking out! She let herself out and then I think I slept some and got up later to call Claudia because things had not slowed down. I had been texting and I think talking too our doula, Becca, that day and with the water breaking I think I knew this was it, but not really.

When I got up to make myself a pizza for lunch, I decided to call Claudia and it was while I was on the phone with her that I realized I was actually in labor-first was when I described the water breaking to her and she asked if I had been using the hibicleanse—a procedure we had been discussing all week with my assumed breaking and I said 'umm, uh, no'-at that moment I realized that maybe I was not thinking super clearly, like in all the stories I had read. Then Claudia was telling me that she was not on-call that weekend, but that she would call Debbie and get her up to speed and that Debbie would call me later. It was when she said she was sorry that she would not be there for my birth that it really hit me. I don't remember getting off the phone with her, I just remember being like—oh my word—this is really it! I called Becca and she helped me decide to have Tim go ahead and come home to beat the traffic and be with me. I think that was around 2pm, I don't remember if I ate the pizza before he got home or after, but we tried another nap, which was not happening at this point and I think we called everyone to start heading our way around 5:30 or 6. 

I was needing to be on the bed rocking on the birth ball through the contractions at this point and I was getting more vocal—I ended up being and feeling like a lioness and losing my voice, but at this point it was still pretty low. 

Tim and I set up the video ourselves at the beginning while he moved some furniture out of the bedroom and started setting the pool up, I remember Becca coming and the Lacey and Amari. Amari took over filming and pictures, while Lacey set up the room, checked on me and the pool.

Thankfully, I had let go of any expectations of how the actual birth would go, I had wanted a water birth, but was not attached to it, I just knew I wanted these people around me who would honor me, love me, respect me, and be gentle with my baby and our time together. I am glad that I had gotten to that place before the birth. I do remember thinking “when is Debbie gonna get here?”. My volume was going up and I do remember being surprised by the intensity of the contractions—like I think I said "are you serious?" And " you've got to be kidding me!" At least a few times—many more in my head. I'm not sure exactly what time Debbie arrived but it was seriously like in my testimonial, like a lighthouse of surrender walked into our bedroom. You have to hear the way I say, "oh, hi Debbie" on the video to understand, but the relief in my voice is only a small fraction of how I felt having her there. I had not gotten scared at that point, but I needed her, her knowledge, her voice to direct me when I came to the surface between the waves.

The pool was amazing!! I don't know exactly why, but it was and there were several moments while in the pool where when watching the video, I thought it would have been nice to have the baby right then! One was right around the time I said, "I would really love a nap", yep that would have been a nice place to have her. Or and I can't pin point this on the video, but there was a point in the water and I was loudly vocalizing at this point that I felt very powerful, really good, like a lioness, invincible almost, it was definitely a high point for me—it would have been nice to have had her then. 

However, it was sometime later that I said “please tell me these are doing something” and Debbie asked to check and I had a lip of cervix in the way, so she suggested we get out and try a squat and then maybe the stairs. I am very thankful that my trust in Debbie was complete and that I serve a God for whom nothing is impossible because when Debbie said stairs...I don't even know how to describe how utterly impossible that sounded, but I said ok. So I did notice the difference she said I would out of the water and standing up...more pressure does not even do it justice...this is when I think I began the vocalization that resulted in the sore throat, loss of voice, and need to suck on cough drops for days. 

What I was surprised by was that I was still nice to everyone at this point. I was saying please and thank you, apologizing that they had too stare at my butt (also quite funny-surprising too), and generally being really sweet. I did have one freak out moment, when I went to squat on Tim's knees, he had his keys in his pocket-I did not handle that very nicely, but I mean seriously?? Sharp-things-in-his-pockets has always been an issue in our marriage, so I'm giving myself some grace there. So, I'm finishing the last few contractions in the squat and steeling myself to go do these crazy stairs for Debbie and this is one of my favorite parts of the video, it is dark and you can't see my face, but I can in my mind's eye and I love my response. Picture me beautifully naked mama, larger than life, not even able to stand upright on my own, inching my way through the bedroom door to the stairs, using walls and people for support, and Debbie says, "and I'd like you to try to take the stairs two at a time"....

I was already in another time and place (honestly my old sense of time and space has not yet returned, but I was fully into the no concept of time-thankfully!), but when she said that time stopped even more. I think I stopped moving, I know I looked up at her...I mean really two at a time?? If her asking me climb the stairs was like asking me to attempt to summit Mt. Everest, this was like her adding, "and I'd really like you to run it, maybe forgo the oxygen tank, and the jacket". One of the many things I love about Debbie is her voice, there is something about it, that makes an impossible suggestion not only seem like a good idea, but seem potentially possible. Still I know my expression was one of utter disbelief, and I expressed that by saying, "you're funny Debbie."

The stairs-wow—besides the very end where I was beyond exhausted, the stairs were by far the hardest part. I went up them, yes two at a time, supported by Tim and Becca and when we got to the top and I realized that I had to go back down (somehow I had not factored that in to my initial assessment of the possibility of tackling the stairs) I vividly remember saying and feeling afraid—it was truly the only time I felt that. Both Tim and Becca stopped and prayed with such authority—I do not remember what they said and I have not found it yet on the video (I'm still working on putting it together-somehow the clips saved out of order, so the over five hours of film has been that much harder to organize=[), that I was instantly flooded with peace and I never felt afraid again.

From here until the birth was really hard for me to watch on the video because it seems to go on forever and I felt such compassion for myself because I was soo tired. We moved to the bed and I labored on my left side, then right side, then we got me up on the birth stool. After the birth stool we got back on the bed and Debbie had me grab my ankles and pull back with the contractions and then pushing on Becca and Lacey who were also pushing on my hips to open them. Then we did the birth stool again and it was getting incredibly difficult at this point and I remember calling out to Jesus and Becca encouraging me that He was there giving me strength and was not going to leave me. 

Let me pause here to say that my husband is beyond amazing. He was better than I could have ever hoped for in the birth and doing this with him, him watching me, helping me, staying with me—I can hardly describe it. It completely changed how I view him, even how attractive he is to me—seriously through this experience he completely became beyond comparison, he looks more like a man to me. I know that does not make sense, but I can't find other words. More manly and insanely more attractive (which was helpful even if in the first few months I just wanted to stare at him in this new found attraction and not act on it—at least it was there-lol!) The way Tim was during the birth was one of the first and main things that excited me about bringing more babies into this world, if we are so blessed. I loved the experience with Tim-hands down it was the most amazing thing we will ever do together. If Debbie was my lighthouse whose light I scanned the shores for as I surfaced after each earth-shattering wave, Tim and Becca were like two dolphins who carried me through the sea. When I watched the video I was surprised that there were times when one of them was not there. They had become so interchangeable to me that I ask for them in the video in almost one breath, they were both always a tangible presence, whispering prayers and words of encouragement just when I needed them. I have to come to realize since the birth that I had a deep wound of never knowing the gift of having someone enter your pain with you. I had always felt my pain was an imposition, something that had to be fixed, that caused others so much distress that they had to stop it. Tim and Becca blessed me and healed a wound that I did not even know I had. They entered into my pain with me, they walked next to me, rode each wave with me, yes, they massaged me and did their best to help me endure, but it was not so that they could be relieved of the pain of my vocalization or writhing-they were truly there for me. They believed with me that this pain had a beautiful purpose, that I had the strength to see it to completion, and they had the grace and humility to choose to enter my pain with me and be there. I found out later that at one point after I had been pushing for awhile, Becca left for like 30 minutes and just went in the other room and cried and prayed for me, she was so moved that it was taking so long and I was working so hard-that blessed my socks off! I wanted to leave and go cry and pray for myself! The fact that someone did that for me is beautiful to me! They did not try to fix it, control how I labored through it, or reason with me-they loved me enough to endure it with me—it is this gift that I hope to give to Joanna because there are times (already have been especially with teething, where I can't fix it, but I can be there with her).

So, then we got back on the bed to keep my legs from getting too tired and Tim got behind me so that I was semi-reclining (I remember being nervous about this position thinking it would not be most effective, and on the video I do ask Debbie about it, but she was right (of course!) I was indeed making progress here), so I pushed on Becca and Lacey again, with Tim behind me helping me fold up with the contractions. I had no idea how much I was gonna need everyone physically!! I am blown away by how Lacey was able to squeeze my hips, support my legs, monitor Joanna and me, record everything, have each transition flow smoothly, and still empty the pool! She has super midwife powers for sure!! 

It might have started on the birth stool, but at some point in here, Debbie began to encourage me to not vocalize, but to hold my breath and focus my energy down during the contractions and then once we were on the bed again I began the process of learning how to push. I did indeed need to learn and I was soo exhausted. I remember trying and Debbie saying that it was close, but not quite (she was so sweet about it, but I am a teacher and I know that ‘close but not quite’ is a nice way of saying, ‘nope that wasn't it’). I actually cried out to The Lord to teach me how to push—I don't remember turning to Him in that moment, but He did teach me. The video gets easier to watch in some ways from here on out, because I am more focused and productive, but harder cause I am soo painful close, but still miles away from holding Joanna. Once I figured out how to push, I really did enjoy it-it was nice to have something to focus on and be "doing" during the contraction. However, it was frustrating sometimes too cause I would want to do more and not feel like I had enough either energy or help from the contraction, plus I could feel that Debbie's fingers were way further in than I wanted them to be. =] We switched to me pulling on the roibos(spelling?) as it was wrapped around Debbie with Becca and Lacey still on my feet and me pulling on the rope during the contraction which did help a lot, and I had no idea how close I was to having Joanna on the bed. 

At this point, I began to feel like I was gonna die. I did not think I voiced that, but when I watched the video I did indeed. Debbie was amazing again, she said: " I know it feels that way. What about it makes you feel that way?" I said, "I'm just soo tired." She then calmly explained how I felt more tired than I was because all the blood was running from my head to my uterus and the baby. I am sure that conversation soothed me in my subconscious because I do not remember it. When I was reflecting on the birth months later, what made it a hard birth for me was not the pain. I never even thought about wanting the pain to go away. I did indeed want the baby out and I was working really hard, but it was the length of my labor, not the pain, that felt like too much. I honestly think I would have been confused without the pain, from about the roibos point forward I felt like I died between each contraction, and every time another contraction would start I would open my eyes and be genuinely surprised to see everyone still standing around me, but with the pain I knew what to do and pushed more. When I watched the video I had no idea that they could see her head when I was on the bed or that Debbie had told me I could feel if I wanted to—the problem at this point was I was "dying" between each contraction and so did not hear anything.

Debbie got me up on the birth stool because I really needed the gravity. It was this last time on the stool that I became concerned for myself. I remember thinking that I could not do this much longer, followed quickly by the thought that I could not go anywhere either, so I would just have to push her out really soon. When I watched the video I had to repent of harboring some resentment towards Debbie (I confessed to her at our 6 week—all is well=]) because I had been thinking how I really wished she had let me feel her head so I would have known how close I was...well she did! It was just in between a contraction so I have no memory of it, but I did push her out shortly after that so again it must have registered subconsciously. I was aware of the ring of fire and probably my tear, I remember thinking 'oh this is the ring of fire. You have to push through that Sara for the baby to come out.' And I did! I pushed her out!

Remember how I said that I had let go of my expectations for how the birth would play out? Well, I did not know that I had strong expectations about AFTER the birth. You know, baby comes out and up on your chest, you are smiling and glowing with surging hormones, you and your husband are crying tears of joy and cuddling this sweet miracle and then everyone cleans up, brings you food, and because you are home, you cuddle up and fall sweetly asleep all together, right? I mean that to me was a given of homebirth. Needless to say, that is not what happened. 

It was indeed amazing to feel her finally slide out, but I wanted to revel in what we had just accomplished. My relief lasted maybe a second, because the baby that Debbie was wiping with a towel on my knees was limp and blue. I had an internal dialogue going on my head which I will relate to you in a moment, but this is another reason I am so glad we had the tape. Debbie immediately said talk to your baby and I started talking to her, but I had no memory of what I said. In my head, my first thought was 'Cami.' My baby felt just like Cami had when I had held her limp body a few days before—it was beyond surreal. I next thought, 'Lord, we cannot have worked and fought this hard for a homebirth only to lose her (at this point I knew she was a girl because we have moved her to the bed). I quickly dismissed that thought and tried to focus in the moment. I could hear Tim praying, but his prayer was so much like what we prayed for Cami, then I tried to listen to myself, but felt myself saying the similar things to what we had said to Cami and then I thought this is just like Cami, but this is what we do...we ask, pray, and believe for life and trust The Lord. When I watched the video I was amazed at how calm both Tim and I were. We were saying things like: “breathe baby, breathe for mama, take a breath sweet pie, you can do it, good job, you are doing such a good job little one, breathe sweetie” amidst Tim praying for Jesus to give this baby breath and life that he knows The Lord can and asking Him to give her life. While Debbie suctioned her and administered oxygen. Actually when I watched it, it was really hard to watch because I know her so well now and it was so hard to see her struggling and just watching us. She was completely alert and listening soo well, she has always been an amazing listener even in the womb. However, in the moment there was perfect peace. Honestly, I do not think I had ever before experienced perfect peace, none of what we should have been feeling or acting like was there, we were calm, present for Joanna and appealing to God. 

We have a lullaby cd of Scripture and one that I often sing to Jo is "Don't you worry about anything, instead pray about everything. And the peace of God, far beyond what we can understand, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."~ Philippians 4:6-7. When I was singing that to her the other night to help her fall asleep, I thought 'we actually, truly experienced that.' Somehow Cami's death and telling her to breathe and being with her like that prepared us to be there for Joanna. It took me awhile to process and I had to talk it through with Debbie, Becca, and Claudia and grieve not having the restful afterbirth that I had dreamed of, but they helped me see that I did not need to grieve getting to bond with her, because we did bond in a very profound way and the way that Joanna needed. So from the very moment of her birth I was called to lay down my life to serve her and be who she needed me to be. She was doing great about 10 minutes later and I am even more thankful that we were home given these issues because she stayed attached to the placenta, we were never separated, she was on my chest and nursing really soon—all of which would have been drastically different in the hospital. I was completely surprised and had to ask twice what time she was born: 2:56 am! It was Saturday the 26th! I expressed how glad I was that I did not know that! I was even more thankful that I did not know that I had pushed for 3 1/2 hours, so almost 24 hours of labor with 3 1/2 pushing! Unreal! My uterus waited to hemorrhage until her placenta was out and then I remember saying, 'Should I be seeing stars?'. And knowing that getting a shot of pitocin meant things weren't that great as well as something under my tongue. I did not pass out, but it was NO fun to have my uterus massaged and clots was the beginning of postpartum pain and issues that I was not prepared for. It wasn't until I made it out of the bedroom about two weeks later that I saw that her apgars were 3/7/8 and that I had lost 4 1/2 cups of blood. Debbie and Lacey took such good care of us—I am still truly amazed. 

Then came the convo about my tear and how it was 3rd degree and with some nervousness about whether or not I was allergic to lidocaine, it was determined that I needed to go in and be stitched up. I must say I was not happy about this at all—I wanted nothing more than to be asleep with Jo and Tim. Debbie needed me to pee before we left and I have to admit it is a crazy experience to not remember how to pee! It seemed to take me forever! Thankfully we were able to be stitched up in triage, so we were not there too long and did not have to be admitted. Our back-up medical was awesome.

She weighed in at 8 lbs. 4 oz and 20 inches long—none too little! We had to pray about her name all night long and I think it caused me to have a new policy of waiting until birth to determine a name. We both woke up thinking Joanna even though it had never been on our list before—it was amazing to lay in bed with this perfect little person and ask 'who are you, my angel?'. We settled on Joanna Elise Gabriella which means: The Gracious God, who is my oath, gives me strength. The Lord certainly gave both of us strength and even though it has been a difficult recovery and I am still dealing with a prolapsed bladder (it is going back slowly with exercises) and an anal fissure/hemorrhoids and really just waking up from a depression—I am thankful.

I am thankful not only for our beautiful daughter and the miracle that she was knit inside of me and was birthed on my thighs, but for the gift of midwives who believed in me, trusted me and birth enough to give us this opportunity, for the man I saw my husband become and the father who emerged during the birth and that first week when he changed every diaper (I still could not stand upright—so it was crash course for dad!), for the confidence that we have had in each other and with Joanna, for the support that we received postpartum from Debbie and Claudia, for the gift they gave us in teaching us surrender, for the strength and calmness of Joanna, for the Grace of God which still gives us strength each day. We are truly, richly, abundantly blessed.