The next moment is one I’m sure I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I was still laboring in the tub. In the dark. In silence. Still unsure of the time. William and Andrea were close by. Alexa kneeled down next to me, held me by my face, and said… “Brittany, I’m so sorry… it’s time”.
And with those words, my anxious, holistic, plan and control-loving heart, felt like it shattered into a million pieces.
To my surprise it was now 4 AM, 6 hours past the original 10 PM deadline Alexa had given me — and 51 hours since my first real contraction. As William and Andrea started to clean and pack up, I sat numb, tears rolling down my face. Alexa shared with me that at 10 PM, she felt like I was very close and decided we could hold off until 11. And then at 11, same thing, and decided we could push to 12. And so on. Until then, 4 AM, where she was far past tired and now regretting not sticking with her original word.
In no rush to go anywhere myself, I cried and cried and cried. Not because I was upset with her or her decision. But because I was truly SAD. I was sad that the birth I had dreamed of for years and prepared for for months, wasn’t going as planned. I was sad that for 9 months I felt I had true confirmation from the Lord that we were suppose to have our baby at home — yet, now we officially weren’t. But ultimately, I was sad …. that I had ‘failed’. I’ve never felt more like a failure than I did in this moment.
I had prepared myself mentally for the chance we would need to go to the hospital in an emergency situation. We weren’t ignorant to this. We made a Plan Z. We preregistered and met the OB “just in case“. We packed a bag. I just never imagined Plan A would be taken off the table without a true emergency. I never imagined that Plan A would end up lasting so many days that my team would be so tired that we would have to sorrowfully move to Plan Z…
My sweet husband ran around our disastrous home, trying to get together everything he thought we needed (in addition to what I had previously packed). Andrea helped me get dressed and as she put my shoes on my feet I leaned over while still crying to tell her what she already knew far too well, “I. don’t. want. to. go.”.
By 4:30 AM, we all mournfully closed the door behind us and got in our cars. Alexa in hers — and us in mine. William was driving, Andrea was in the passenger seat, and I was in the back, next to the vacant car seat we had luckily already installed.
The drive to the German hospital was about 15 minutes all on the autobahn (no speed limit). I continued to have contractions while holding on to the car handle and unlike most laboring woman, kept yelling for William to “SLOW DOWN!”. He loves to remind me that in this moment I was the world’s WORST back seat driver as I kept yelling at him, “THIS ISN’T AN EMERGENCY! YOU NEED TO SLOW DOWN!” It’s amazing Andrea is still friends with us 😉
We checked in to the hospital just before 5 AM. Alexa came in with us and explained the whole situation to the staff in German. The hospital staff was very familiar with who she was (as she has been the main home birth midwife in the area for decades). And thankfully, they were also somewhat familiar with me.
At some point Faith (who we had sent home about 8 hours earlier) was called and caught up to speed. She SO graciously arrived at the hospital around the same time we did. With Alexa unable to stay with us at the hospital, it was comforting to have Faith back with us, especially to help advocate for me now with Plan Z. Our saint of a photographer, Victoria, was also informed of the transition and came rushing to the hospital — something we never would have expected or asked of her.
As you can imagine, German hospitals are very different than American. For example, labor and delivery is midwife ran. Alexa said her goodbyes, and the on-duty midwife, Carolina, quickly and calmly checked on me and baby. I was now dilated 9 cm, both of our heart rates were normal, and the staff was (amazingly) okay with giving me space to continue to labor as is. Unfortunately, my contractions had regressed again due to the transition from home to hospital — my body always seemed to naturally clam up when unwanted change was introduced. I tried to get settled but was having a hard time shaking my emotions. I wasn’t feeling fearful as much as I was feeling angry and baffled that we were actually at the hospital. Plan Z was actually happening.
At 6 AM, the head OB had arrived and against both of our prior wishes, we met again. She informed me that I was now fully dilated (53 hours later) but my water still hadn’t broken. I tried to labor in the tub in the hospital room — but that didn’t seem to help. I kept complaining that it was too shallow and hard on my knees. But more than that, I was still just having a bad attitude about not being where I wanted to be — home.
By 8:45 AM, I had finally settled down, but the OB was now heavily involved in my labor (which isn’t a good sign in a midwife ran unit). She was pretty much insisting that she break my water. I was hesitant, as I originally planned for ZERO intervention, but for time’s sake (HA), I ultimately agreed. I felt her attempt multiple times before it actually broke, and as I laid there in disbelief, she informed me that things would REALLY speed up now. I felt the water trickle out but nothing got speedy by any means. This baby was taking his precious time. It didn’t matter what we did. It seemed he was enjoying every last minute in the safest place he would ever be.
Meanwhile, my mom’s overnight flight had now landed in Germany and she was on her way to the hospital (from the airport 1.5 hours away). She ended up getting connected with our friend, Marissa, who picked her up and took her back to our house, where the two of them + Andrea and her husband, so graciously cleaned up our home.
A couple hours went by and I was beginning to feel nauseous from exhaustion and started debating if I should just start pushing. I had been fully dilated for almost 6 hours and my water was broken — yet my body wasn’t really giving me any indication of that “urge to push”. Everyone and their mother had told me, “OH, trust me, you’ll know when it’s time“… so I just kept waiting for that “fetal ejection reflex”. But baby boy (with his ginormous head) was still so high in the birth canal and apparently he found it very comfortable there.
By 11:30 AM the hospital staff was no longer willing to be patient. My contractions were coming hard but they still weren’t on top of each other. Carolina insisted I do a nose spray of Pitocin to help get them closer together. This was aboslutely against my original wishes — but now, I was desperate.
Faith had asked for another doula we both knew to come as extra support. She sweetly agreed and was in the middle of helping me do more side-lying releases during contractions when my mom finally arrived at the hospital (at 12 PM)! I’ll never forget lying there on my side, looking up at her standing there, crying and saying, “Mom, if I can’t get this baby out they’re going to do a you-know-what”. She had fear in her eyes as she held my hand and said, “No, no, it’s going to be okay”.
I was in so much pain. Beyond tired. And in total disbelief that my mom was really there. In Germany. On my due date. Almost 3 days later than I had originally called her and excitedly told her 1st grandchild was on the way.
By 12:30 PM — everyone but William and Faith were asked to leave the room. There was now an urgency to get him out unlike anytime before. The room was spinning. Have I mentioned I was SO exhausted? There was a heaviness in the air. Faith looked me square in the eyes and said, “Brittany, I don’t know if you know this, but when they broke your water they put you on a time clock, and you are very quickly approaching that time… they will then move to the next intervention”.
I’ll never forget her eyes. They stared straight into my soul and lit an absolute fire inside of me. I had no idea what time it was, how much time was left, or exactly what the “next intervention” she was speaking of was — but I was 110% determined to NOT find out.
While the OB was getting rather antsy with me, the hospital midwife, Carolina, was for me. She grabbed the rebozo rope from the ceiling and insisted I do exactly what she ordered. She said, “I want you to hold on to this rope and when you feel a contraction coming on I’m going to spray Pitocin in your nose. Then you need to squat down, fully extend your arms straight above your head, keep your knees bent, feet flat, chin down, AND hold your breath throughout the entire contraction … while pushing with everything you have.”
As each contraction would come, I would do my best to remember all that she had instructed. There was a real negativity in the air and I for the first time was really questioning if I could do this. It felt natural for me to want to tilt my head back, lift my heels off the ground, and of course, BREATHE. But this was all the opposite of what she was insisting. She and the OB stayed right beside me, helping me keep my feet flat and chin down while Faith and William encouraged me on. This was THE most painful and exhausting thing I have EVER done.
6 contractions later and suddenly the demeanor of the room was changing. There was even slight cheering and I could hear William saying, “Babe, I can see him! I can see him! You’re doing it! Keep pushing!” I began crowning as I was suspended from the rebozo rope. Unable to hardly hold myself up any longer, they helped me move over to the bed to lay down on my side…
And there, at 12:53 PM, with one more contraction, John Henry Fine was finally born.
He was immediately brought to my chest and William and I cried huge tears of joy — and relief. Thank you, Jesus.
He was healthy and covered head to toe in vernix and I could hear the staff murmuring about how large (and perfectly shaped) his head was (all things considered). We were in complete awe of this perfect child who we had just survived 60 of the longest and hardest hours to meet. Our firstborn. Our son. Our precious, John Henry.
They allowed me 15 minutes of delayed cord clamping before my placenta was born at 1:08 PM. William had the honor of cutting the cord. Which he wants you to know, was also a harder task than he expected. 🙂
After my “Golden Hour”, it was finally William’s turn. 60 hours from my first contraction. 7 hours from full dilation. He had literally stayed up and fought days for this special first moment of skin to skin with his son.
The midwives finally checked Henry thoroughly out — 8 lb, 9 oz (85%), 22.5 in (100%), 17.5 in (98%) head. And then my mom got to meet her first grandchild — followed by our dear friend, Marissa.
By 3:30 PM we were moved to a recovery room. William immediately (and rightfully so) passed out. Marissa had brought bags and bags of food, which I devoured as I simultaneously started begging the staff to let me go home. After a few hours of monitoring my stitching/bleeding, and some debate, they so kindly granted me my wish!
At 6:00 PM, after a solid power nap, William went to get the car — and I got to proudly walk out of the hospital holding my 5-hour-old son, as a new mom, with my mom, a new grandmother. In Landstuhl, Germany.
Although I was still in tears, our drive home was astonishingly different than the drive there. Yes, William was driving, but my mom was now in the passenger seat… and I was in the back with a now very cute and occupied carseat. Headed to the place I prayed we would never leave — home sweet home.
As we carried our newborn baby into his new home, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The whole house was sparkling, the furniture was exactly where it was suppose to be and there were flowers on every surface. I burst into tears.
My mom, and our friends, Marissa, Andrea and Daniel, had gone to our house to clean up while I was in the hospital. The birthing tub was emptied and out of sight, the beds were made, the counters were cleared. I’m still not over how much of a gift this was to me — as returning home to the memory of the plans and expectations I had lost might have totally broken my overly hormonal heart.
We later found out that they had scheduled me to be brought upstairs for a C-Section at 1:00 PM. I’ll never stop thanking God for that 7 minute window of grace. And for the opportunity to give birth overseas — as I know this story would have ended very differently in America.
As you can imagine, sharing this story is extremely vulnerable for me. I know there are many opinions in regards to birth. I don’t expect my feelings or fears or expectations to be understood by everyone. And obviously in sharing my experience, I would never want my reality to invalidate someone else’s. But I think it’s important we share. I think it’s important that we can be open and honest about the beautiful and traumatic ways birth changes us.
While this story may seem to be ending here with a pretty bow. I can assure you there were MONTHS of healing to follow. DEEP physical, emotional & spiritual healing that had to take place. That in some ways, is still taking place.
Of course there is SO much to be thankful for in this story — what a GIFT to have a healthy pregnancy, an unbelievable support system, and ultimately, to return home with a beautiful and healthy baby boy in tow. I’d never want to be blind or insensitive to the fact that when it comes to something as serious and sacred as pregnancy and birth, a healthy mom + baby is not always the outcome.
But the joy and thanksgiving that comes from the ending of this story doesn’t mean that the middle doesn’t haunt me. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t spend many nights nursing that beautiful baby, shaking in tears as the clock would strike 4 AM, in complete remembrance of what that time of
night morning once felt like.
It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have to go to counseling (starting 10 days postpartum) to grieve and process my desired vs. real birth story, learn how to create healthy boundaries against unwanted opinions, and most importantly, forgive myself.
It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a pit in my stomach every time I drove that same stretch of the autobahn post-birth — always forcing myself to look back at that sleeping baby, take a deep breath, and say a prayer.
It doesn’t mean that anytime I hear a single song from my home birthing playlist, my mind doesn’t want to immediately remind me of disappointment and “failure” I associated with their days of repetition.
It doesn’t mean that the enemy hasn’t tempted me to play the “what if” game over and over and over again. And that I haven’t irrationally blamed everyone involved in this story for the length of my labor. Blaming myself — and God — the harshest and longest.
It doesn’t mean that we didn’t spend a few hours at the hospital the day before we moved back to America, because I still had unanswered questions and despite what they thought of me, I needed closure before leaving the country.
And it definitely doesn’t mean that I’m not intimidated to find out what, Lord willing, a second go-round may look like.
I’ve spent the past year accepting, healing, and moving forward from this story. Writing it out for myself, and then for you, has been a large part of that. I spent many of those early weeks overcome with sadness that my birth experience felt radically different than I had planned. But with time, a thousand conversations and prayers, and a lot of grace, the Lord has helped me shift my feelings of failure to feelings of triumph — and even gratitude.
It’s natural for humans to want answers to problems… and especially, failure. But I’ve had to learn that the mystery of birth doesn’t always promise an answer. There’s not always a solution. And that giving birth never equates to failure.
Every birth is unique and comes without warning or instruction. Sometimes things go as planned — but often times, not. Birth, and life, are unpredictable and beyond our control.
I’ve heard it said that: Time doesn’t heal. God does. But sometimes He uses time to do it. And in my case, He’s used an entire year. But honestly, there was a point in my life where I questioned if I would even be able to have my own children — mainly due to my many medical fears. So this journey feels a lot like conquering a life time fear. I no longer feel held captive to the fear of birth, the hospital, or the changing of plans. And I praise God for that.
With each new day, I feel stronger and the weight feels lighter. The memory and the trauma feel foggier … and the grief feels 100% worth the “the price of love”.
Oh how I would relive this story a million times for this unexplainable love.
Birth photography by the extremely kind and talented, Victoria Tiger