John Henry’s Birth Story | Part 1 (Labor)

I’ve always loved birth stories. Over the last decade, I’ve read or listened to more than I can count — while simultaneously daydreaming about one day maybe having the chance to write and share my own. Especially while pregnant, I would finish reading stories written by brave and strong woman and feel unbelievably encouraged, empowered, excited — but even more than that, just ridiculously curious as to what parts of their story I would be able to relate to… or what parts would I not. 

But then in March 2019, I gave birth to my first baby and the words to share about the experience didn’t come as easily I had expected. In fact, I ended up spending almost the entire last year avoiding giving my long awaited birth story a more permanent place than my brain. Because finding the right words to explain the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced was uncomfortable and painful for this postpartum brain of mine. Every time I would force myself to physically sit down and write — my heart would clench up. My eyes would water. My fingers would feel paralyzed. 

Because it meant I had to fully process Henry’s birth. I had to remember and relive it. I had to make space for it. I had to allow the Lord to mature and heal me through it. All of which felt necessary — but none of which felt easy.

And as if getting it from my brain to ‘paper’ for just my own personal record wasn’t hard enough, I came up with every reason in the book why it didn’t make sense to share it here with you.  It’s too personal. There will be so many opinions. Too much time has passed. I’ll be misunderstood. No one really cares…

But then those fears began to look so small next to an an even bigger one: That this story might be the biggestme too opportunity I’ve ever been given – and I chose to keep it for myself.

Me too” moments stir my heart. I imagine they do something to yours as well. They’re actually exactly the reason this blog came into existence. And they’re usually involved when I feel the Lord nudging me the most.

But the truth is, this isn’t the story I thought I would be writing. And it’s not the story I wanted you to read. It has a humbling beginning and a beautiful end — but the middle decided to go way off script. The middle shocked and challenged me in ways I never dreamed. The middle broke. my. heart.

It’s a story of joy and heartbreak intertwined. A story of changed plans and shattered expectations. A story of strength, perseverance and grace in the midst of deep fear and disappointment.

My birth story.


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Being pregnant was such an honor for me. There’s nothing quite like the experience of growing another human life, within your own. The Lord’s design for women to nurture and grow babies for months within their womb — and then powerfully yet humbly give birth to them — is without a doubt miraculous.

And while I have zero judgement towards those whom disagree, I whole heartedly believe that women are fully capable of safely bringing babies into the world with little to no medical intervention (*in most situations). In fact, our bodies were built and intended for it.

I know many people find home births to be weird — or maybe even believe they are dangerous or irresponsible. But to me, having my baby at home felt needed. It felt like the safest and most sacred option. It felt 100% right. My husband, William, was greatly supportive and involved in the decision to have our baby at home. He never questioned if I could do it and he never doubted the fact that it was just as safe as delivering in a hospital setting.

There were many reasons for this decision. But if you know me well, you know that hospitals cause me an overwhelming amount of anxiety and fear. Actually, anything medical (and especially, needle) related does. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. So the idea of giving birth in a place that literally makes my stomach churn, just didn’t make sense. I wanted to give birth in a place that I felt safe, calm, peaceful, empowered, free.

I wanted to give birth at Home.

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At 13 weeks pregnant, we hired a German homebirth midwife, Alexa. The moment I saw her walking up our street in her parachute pants, swinging a large, worn leather tote, her grey, wiry hair bouncing with every step — my heart jumped. It was her. I could feel it. She was the woman who would be there as I gave birth to our baby.

Despite her imperfect English, my noticeable nervousness and William’s sweet ignorance — the 3 of us immediately connected. She began coming over for my prenatal appointments every 3 weeks and would stay an average of two hours each visit. She never had a single concern about me or baby — or my ability to deliver naturally/unmedicated at home. We grew closer at each appointment and William and I both had all the confidence in the world in her supporting us as we brought our son into the world.

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Although I’m a little uncomfortable admitting it, my pregnancy journey was rather ideal. No morning sickness, no swelling, no constipation, perfect blood pressure, no heartburn, no serious cravings, no lack of sleep, never even getting up in the middle of the night to pee (!). Outside of a couple of days of fatigue and food aversion in the first trimester and some pretty killer pelvis pain and surprise stretch marks in the last month — I know that compared to most pregnancies, I had nothing to complain about.

I was able to stay active almost until the very end (until that previously mentioned pelvis pain plagued me). I practiced prenatal yoga weekly. I ate a healthy diet 95% of the time. Walked whenever I could. Read nearly a dozen pregnancy/birthing/baby books. Hired a doula. Got adjusted weekly. Had prenatal massages every once in a while. And never missed my daily array of vitamins. After what felt like a rather “easy” 9 months, I felt confident that an “easy” labor and delivery would surely follow suit.


At 30 weeks, Alexa began coming over every 2 weeks. At 31 weeks, we hired our doula, Faith. And by 36 weeks, the 4 of us had created a “just in case” plan. “Plan Z”, as we were calling it. 

As part of Plan Z, William and I went and preregistered at a local German hospital and met with the head OB there. Although she openly disagreed with our Plan A (as to be expected) , she was kind to spend time with us and check on baby via ultrasound. Besides the fact that his head was measuring on the larger side (which we already knew), she assured us that everything looked great and as we shook hands to part ways, she humorously said, “Well, best of luck… I hope I never see you again”. We laughed as I said, “Thanks, I hope to never see you again either”.

I was now 38 weeks and we. were. ready. My pelvis had separated almost 8 cm(!) and that meant I was in alllll kinds of pain. Alexa was now coming over every week and calling every few days. I was getting adjusted and massaged 1-2x a week. The birthing tub/supplies were ready and organized. The homemade broth and ‘padsicles’ were in the freezer. The “Plan Z” bags were packed and hidden out of sight. Our birth plan and home had been prayed for and through over and over and over again. Now all we needed was for my mom to safely arrive … and to finally hold our baby!

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My mom was coming to Germany to stay and help us for 3 weeks. Knowing that most first time mothers go into labor late, she bought a flight to arrive on my due date — March 6th. This ensured that even worse case, she was guaranteed to meet and be with baby atleast 1 week (as I was not allowed to go past 42 weeks). As I imagine most moms would be, she was somewhat uncomfortable with our desire to deliver at home. With this in mind, we very intentionally prayed that baby would come early if she wasn’t meant to be at our home for the birth.


Day 1:

On Monday, March 4th at 1:00 AM I started having contractions after spending the majority of the evening in the bathroom with what I thought was an extremely poor timing of the flu. After timing a few of what I finally realized were contractions, I eagerly woke up William to let him know that I thought I had begun early labor and if I were in fact timing things correctly — my contractions were already 5 minutes apart! In disbelief, he jumped out of bed to see it for himself… and sure enough — they were!

Both wide awake now, we laid side by side in bed timing my contractions and suddenly doubting everything we had learned and prepared for over the last 9 months.

By 5:00 AM we messaged our doula, Faith, to let her know what was going on. She was equally as surprised and as excited as we were! I specifically remember at this point turning to William and giddily saying, “Well, I guess my mom wasn’t meant to be here… I think we’re going to be holding our little guy by lunchtime!”

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By 7:00 AM William called our midwife, Alexa, only to find out she was actually at another birth and couldn’t come to us until that baby was born. Upon telling me the news, my contractions significantly slowed down. Although my labor never fully stopped, it definitely felt stalled. I had gone from having contractions every 5 minutes to every 20+ in a really short period of time.

This was the first of many moments where birth was different than I had expected. I quickly learned that the mental side of birth can be just as exhausting and important as the physical one.

Miraculously, the other baby was born within a couple of hours and by 10 AM our doula, shortly followed by our midwife, our midwife’s intern, and our photographer had all arrived to our home.

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Everything felt peaceful. Calm. Exciting. The sun was beaming through our old German windows and worship music was softly playing in the background. It was exactly how I had envisioned my labor to be.

Alexa got herself situated (as she had just rushed over straight from the other birth). Our photographer, Victoria, got busy working her magic. And Faith began assisting us in some comfort measures and “The Three Sisters of Balance” (Rebozo Sifting, Forward-Leaning Inversion, Sidelying Release) as we tried to get things to speed up again).

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This routine continued for the rest of the day — and certainly past that lunchtime deadline I had foolishly previously vocalized. As we watched the sun set, I felt very aware of how little progress I had made after almost an entire day of labor and I began to feel slightly discouraged.

Once dark, we ate some dinner and Alexa decided it might help if she sent her intern home. The less people involved the better. Meanwhile, Faith offered to practice yoga with me to help me relax. It felt good to stretch, renew my spirits, and try to release any negative thoughts I was having towards my body or my ability to give birth.

At this point in the evening, William felt like every one should go home and rest and we could start fresh again tomorrow. But to his surprise, both Alexa and Faith insisted on staying, as they felt it was their job to be there and support us. I was secretly relieved by their decision. (To this day, William still regrets it.)

With our team faithfully by our side, I decided to finally get into the birthing tub for the first time. I had originally planned on not getting in until I felt very close to bringing baby into the world, but we all agreed it was time for an exception, as it might help me further relax and allow my contractions to get closer together again.

The hot water felt SO good. And although I remember feeling a bit disheartened — more than that, I felt supported and calm. I continued to feel the Lord’s presence and trusted Him in the process.

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I continued to labor all night. Some in the tub. Some on the toilet. Some on the stairs. Some in our bed. Alexa would occasionally check in on me — always assuring us that baby’s heart rate was “super” (a very popular German adjective). Faith was amazing at making sure all of my needs were met and trying to keep me as hydrated and as comfortable as possible. And William was an absolute rock for me through every hour that passed.

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Day 2:

The sun began to rise on Day 2 and I found myself continuously apologizing to our team. I was disappointed in the length of my labor and I felt like I was holding them hostage. I felt like I was letting them down. Honestly, I was beginning to feel like I was letting myself down.

It was really weighing on me that I had now been in labor for over 24 hours and that it really didn’t seem like it was ending anytime soon. As odd as it may sound, it became extremely difficult for me to not be concerned about our birth team. There they were, all “stuck” in our home for over a day now as I “failed” to progress. (This is how I was beginning to see it at least.) No proper place to sleep. The fridge barely stocked. Their paychecks far too small. It took everything in me to not worry about if they had eaten, slept, called their families, wanted to go home, wanted to give up. In between contractions, I was finding energy to gather them pillows and blankets and continuously asking William to make sure they knew where x,y and z was.

This was another side of (home)birth I hadn’t considered. You have people in your home — yet you aren’t hosting or taking care of them. They are taking care of YOU. And it may be that way for a lot longer than you anticipated….

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Around 8 AM, after MUCH convincing, Victoria also went home. I assured her she had already taken more photos than we could ever thank her for and we had zero expectation of her staying until the actual birth. Our plans continued to change as our birth team was now down from 6 to 4: Me, William, Midwife, Doula.

I was questioning almost everything at this point. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I clear my brain? Why aren’t I progressing quicker? Am I just going to be pregnant forever?

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I continued to try to rest — as I had just endured a long night of contractions and knew I still had a long road ahead. I took a shower. I ate lunch. We did more side lying releases and rebozo sifting. And around 12 PM my chiropractor even made a house visit to ensure I was completely aligned. Unsure of what the hold up was due to — we were desperate for anyone or thing that thought they could help.

During Day 2, I often felt pulled in 2 directions. One part of me wanted to simple rest and let me my body just do its thing — but another part of me was eager and wanted something to do to get this baby out! My midwife and doula were also somewhat divided on this and each had their own opinion on how I should be laboring. Unfortunately this created some mental tension for me as I trusted them both and I couldn’t ever figure out where I personally stood.

This was yet another side of birth I hadn’t prepared for. Pre-birth I felt sure that I would be confident during labor and be able to fully trust my body and mind. But during labor, I struggled at points to know how I felt or how I wanted to labor. I needed ideas and suggestions more than I realized — yet that sometimes brought even more confusion — and even, discouragement. It was on Day 2 that I realized I had really high expectations for my intuition.

But in the midst of confusion, one thing was for sure: I always made the most progress when William and I were alone in our room. Although my entire labor consisted of somewhat inconsistent contractions, they would come the fastest and hardest when it was just the two of us.

I could go ON AND ON about each person involved in this story — but I have no words for how big William loved and cared for me in these long days. He had no idea the extent of his role when he signed up for this — yet he never wavered. He encouraged and massaged and squeezed and kissed and fed and held and prayed for me with everything he had.

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Dinner time was quickly approaching and although I had originally planned on not ever knowing my dilation progress — we decided to have my midwife check. She happily told us I was dilated to a 7, almost 8. And while this news did bring some relief in knowing I was at least dilating — it was simultaneously frustrating that I had been laboring for almost 2 full days and my water was still in tact and I was still not fully dilated.

As the sun prepared to set and we drew closer to day 3 of labor, everything began to feel heavy. Everyone involved was tired. Really tired. Especially Alexa. At this point, she hesitantly, yet courageously, communicated with us that if baby wasn’t here by 10 PM, we would need to transition to the hospital. Not because she was in fear of me or baby — but due to her lack of sleep and inability to safely do her job any longer.

I had no idea what time it was but based on the sun, I figured we had about 5 more hours. Knowing how badly I wanted to stay at home, Alexa kept saying with a long face and her thick German accent, “we need a miracle”. A miracle that my water would (naturally) break so there would be enough pressure for baby to drop down and be born.

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Insert Andrea.

Andrea is a dear friend of ours that we met in Germany. She is a wonderful wife and a mother of 3, all of whom were born via at home water-births. Our families grew close over the past couple of years and she was a great encouragement to me while I was pregnant. In fact, William will argue that she is THE reason I was finally open to getting pregnant! 🙂

The tub I was laboring in was borrowed from Andrea and I daydreamed for many months of having the strength and courage to have my baby where she had hers.

Desperate for help, saddened by the current situation, and confused on what to do next, William reached out to Andrea.

Without hesitation, she came over. I immediately fell into her (not caring one bit that she’s not a hugger). She knew I was tired, frustrated, disappointed, and so much more. And she immediately made it her goal to flip that around. She helped me get on my sneakers and a sweater and politely insisted that we start walking this baby out. And so, walking we went.

William, Andrea and I began making loops around the neighborhood, while Alexa and Faith tried to catch a few more z’s back at our house. It was dark, cold and wet — and none of us were wearing appropriate clothing — but that didn’t stop us.

We walked. And prayed. They held me as I had 5 minute apart contractions all the way down the sidewalk. German neighbors stopped and stared as we kept going. William and Andrea on each side of me — doing their best to support my small and fragile steps. I remember feeling really sad — somewhat angry — and totally spent. We took turns praying aloud. We were begging the Lord to miraculously rupture my waters and bring. this. baby. out. before 10 PM! In Jesus name.

Once I didn’t feel like my legs could take another step and all 3 of us were damp and uncomfortable — we decided it was best to go back home and for me to try to get into the tub again.

On the walk back home, we also decided it might be best to ask Faith to go home. This was one of the many hard parts of this story, as she had been extremely helpful and faithful to us in so many ways. But we needed a change. We needed a miracle.

I was so thankful for how Andrea swooped in. Not only did she have fresh eyes — but she had done this before and she believed in me. She started washing towels and feeding me bone broth and Alexa began boiling more water — since we had now used all of our hot water supply to fill the 120 gallon tub twice before.

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Andrea, Alexa and William worked hard to empty the cold water from the tub with large bowls and pots — and refill it with warmer water from the stovetop. I continued to labor on the couch or in the tub and as each contraction came, I would call out for their help. William or Andrea would immediately help support my hips and rub my back as I would ride out the wave. As each contraction would pass, I remember being so impatient for another one. As crazy as it seems, I was angrily and audibly asking the Lord to keep sending them. I was so desperate for them to keep coming so I could finally have this baby.

This was yet another side of birth I never would have expected. As I prepared for birth, I would get anxious about the unknown idea of contractions coming so hard and fast and not being able to do anything to stop them. But then in reality, my body never brought contractions as hard or fast as I had imagined — and there was nothing I could do to change that. I remember banging the side of the tub as a contraction would end and frustratedly saying “no, no, no… please keep coming! Lord! Send another one! PLEASE send another one!”

I didn’t have a way to tell the time but I knew it was definitely past Alexa’s 10 PM deadline. Although I was never going to ask anyone to confirm it. I was so afraid and against going to the hospital. Every one there knew this. Everyone there was on my side.

And everyone there was fighting and praying for me to have this baby at home…

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>Part 2< to be continued tomorrow…

 


Birth photography by the extremely kind, patient & talented, Victoria Tiger

2 thoughts on “John Henry’s Birth Story | Part 1 (Labor)

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