An important note from 2022:
Toward the end of this birth story, I state that I was glad the hospital staff acted quickly without my permission. After time, reflection, new knowledge, and a remarkable freebirth, I have changed my opinion on the actions of the hospital staff during Judah's birth. It is unacceptable for hospital staff to put their hands up a woman's vagina without her permission, even when - no, especially when - a baby is trying to come out. My stomach sinks that I even have to type that. As I recall that part of my birth story, I feel violated. To this day, I still do not know the names of the hospital staff who disturbed my birth...
Birth is inherently normal and safe, especially when left undisturbed, and I absolutely regret going to the hospital to deliver Judah, knowing now what his birth could have been had I just stayed home. Having said that, I leave Judah's birth story as I originally typed it to show the evolution between this hospital birth and my subsequent freebirth.
A new thing
To preface, my labors with my first two children were very long: 36.5 hours (19.5 active) and 42.5 hours (8 hours active). The drive to the hospital at which we chose to deliver Judah was over an hour. Despite this being my third full-term pregnancy, I was not at all concerned about making it on time.
For each of my previous labors, I had hoped for an unmedicated birth but received an epidural with each of them once I started feeling the pain of contractions in unlikely and unexpected places: my rectum and anal sphincter. OH. MY. GOSH. Excruciating. No one on either of my birth teams had heard of this, and no one had any idea what to do about it. Of course, I had never heard of it either, which led me to feel like something was wrong with my body… which led to fear… which led to me fighting the contractions… which led to more pain… which led quickly to my decision to get the epidural.
It was an okay experience. Both epidurals went in smoothly despite my scoliosis. I enjoyed being able to drink as much ice water as I wanted without having to get up to pee. I didn’t have any complications from either of them. Still, I knew I wanted something different for this labor. Something in me still deeply desired an unmedicated birth. Not for a trophy or bragging rights. I wanted to experience that high after birth that I felt I didn’t get to experience with either of my first two sons, as if my body was too numb to fully understand what was happening and was therefore unable to respond with the right levels of hormones at the right times.
I prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually in ways I never had before. I wrote prayers, visions, affirmations, and scripture in a special birth preparation notebook. My biggest prayer for this birth was that this would be FAST and unmedicated. I trusted God could do something new and miraculous! A verse that stood out to me from the time we started trying to conceive Judah was Isaiah 43:18-19:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
So I did that. I stopped dwelling on my former, very long births and believed for a new thing!
I had a few signs my body was preparing to go into labor, beginning on February 28th. These signs were irritability, wanting alone time, constant belly tightening (painless), bloody show, elevated body temperature (99ºF), excessive thirst with dry throat, loose stools the week before, and less shortness of breath (as if the baby had dropped, alleviating pressure on my lungs).
On Leap Day, I had light contractions all morning, followed by bloody show with lots of mucus at 12:30pm. I was hoping for a Leap Day baby! I told Anthony to put the boys down for their naps, and I took a shower at 1pm. After my shower, we slowly put a few more things in the hospital bag. With no progression through the afternoon, the day ended with no baby, and we went to bed.
The morning of March 1st, I felt more contractions throughout the morning, but they still were not consistent. Oddly, I felt no pain, pressure, or cramping in my abdomen with my contractions. I only felt a downward pressure on my cervix and rectum, though my hands could feel my abdominal muscles tightening if I placed them on my belly.
It was Sunday, and our home church was 30 minutes in the opposite direction of the hospital, so we didn’t feel comfortable leaving home. We had one last breakfast as a family of four at the coffee shop down the street. I had more bloody show at 10:45, followed by partial loss of my mucus plug at 1pm. Anthony and I put the boys down for a nap and enjoyed a live broadcast church service.
By mid-afternoon, I began feeling more rectal pressure with my contractions. They were uncomfortable but still nothing that stopped me in my tracks and certainly nothing worth timing. I sat on a hard footstool for counterpressure and worked comfortably through the sporadic contractions as we continued about our regular Sunday evening routine.
As the boys’ bedtime approached, I started wondering if we should have them spend the night at my dad’s house 2 miles away. I decided against it, and we put the boys to bed.
Anthony and I went to bed ourselves shortly after 11pm. Starting at 11:30pm, I had three contractions that were uncomfortable enough and close enough together to keep me awake. I decided to get up, pee, relax, and maybe start timing my contractions while I let Anthony sleep. By the time I got downstairs, I knew it was time to finish packing the hospital bag. By 12:30am on March 2nd, I knew it was time to wake up Anthony.
I didn’t get a chance to time a single contraction. The only record I have is a note scribbled in my birth notebook:
0030 Constant uncomfortable contractions
I still felt no pain or cramping in my abdomen, making it fairly easy to breathe and move around, but I knew it was time to call the midwife. I called the triage line at 12:46am and called my dad at 1:04am to come stay with the boys.
My midwife called back at 1:07am and told me to come in for a labor check. Meanwhile, I was still walking around, gathering a few last-minute items for the hospital bag. The contractions were far more consistent than they had been but still not terribly close together and with no pain, meaning I was still able to breathe through them. I hoped this wasn’t false labor.
My dad arrived at 1:15am. With no time to go upstairs to change into warmer clothes, I put on the going home outfit I had packed away in the hospital bag, and Anthony and I began the hour-and-15-minute drive to the hospital in 10ºF.
The contractions quickly intensified. We probably didn’t drive more than a mile before I knew there was no way I would be able to sit and labor in the car considering all the discomfort was in my cervix and rectum. I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned around to labor on my knees. There had been no time to pull up my labor playlist, so we were listening to the radio. Moments later, the music stopped. It was a safety feature that stopped the radio as long as I was unbuckled. I fastened the seatbelt across the back of the seat and continued laboring on my knees with my arms wrapped around the seat and head resting on the head rest.
Soon enough, I knew I wouldn’t be needing a labor check. I was in labor. The pressure intensified, but I was able to manage the uncomfortable portion of each contraction with the chant “Pressure, pressure, pressure. Progress, progress. Lord, help me surrender. Help me relax my jaw, my shoulders, my butthole.” (Yep, butthole. I went there.) By the end of the chant, the discomfort would subside, and I would end with, “Thank you, Jesus.” This routine worked for quite some time, shifting my mindset and allowing me to relax into each contraction rather than fight it. This made a huge difference the level of pain I experienced.
I still had no abdominal pain or cramping and could feel the downward pressure on my cervix each time. Each contraction felt short but efficient. The painless portion of each contraction made my rest periods feel longer, allowing me to breathe and endure powerful contractions that were coming one on top of the other.
I began constantly talking to God in one long prayer. As the contractions became more intense, I prayed desperately, “Lord, I need you. I need you so bad. I just want you.” I began thanking him for everything: the contractions, Anthony, Abel, Theodore, Judah, my dad, the truck… everything…
About fifteen miles into the drive, we came to an intersection where I thought I felt something slip through my birth canal. Of course, I immediately envisioned that it was Judah’s head coming out. I knew we were still too far from the hospital. It was too cold. There weren’t enough stops along the way. There was no way this baby could come out there and then. I refused to believe it and didn’t allow myself to fear it or even think it. I prayed and believed that God would get us to the hospital before the baby was born. That feeling of something in my birth canal didn’t happen again, and we eventually made it to the Interstate. Getting closer.
After some time driving down the Interstate at I don’t even want to know what speed, I asked Anthony how much longer we had to go.
I thought the answer was going to be more encouraging and immediately regretted asking. “Oh, God. Lord God, take away time. Take away the pain. Take away fear. Your perfect love casts out fear. Take this from me. I can’t do it, but you can. Take away time. Take away time.” I can’t explain exactly what I meant by that request, but I trusted God knew and that he was able to do it!
As we neared our exit, I kept saying I felt like I wanted to puke. I wasn’t actually nauseated (maybe a bit queasy), but I was so desperate for relief, maybe I thought the relieving feeling of puking would be a welcome sensation after all the intense cervical pressure. I couldn’t start fighing my body now. I had to tell myself, “It’s ok if you puke; it’s ok if you pee; it’s ok if your water breaks,” so I could continue to relax into my contractions.
About this time, I had a fleeting thought that I would want epidural when I got to hospital, but right then, there was nothing I could do but pray. So I leaned in and prayed.
I begged God for a break and amazingly got a good 3-minute break to breathe before they came back one on top of the other.
The contractions were so consistent and intense by now, I began to rock my hips back and forth with each one and had traded my calm chant for low moans. I had read low frequencies help alleviate pain, and it was all I could think to do in the moment. To my amazement and relief, they did help!
Still laboring backwards in my seat, I saw the flash of blue lights appear in the black of the night. Certainly we hadn’t been speeding or else we would have arrived at the hospital long before then. Had they seen me sitting unsafely in my seat?
“Turn around,” Anthony suggested. The laboring version of me thought, “No way,” but the rule-following version of me thought, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.”
I turned around as we exited the Interstate and sat just in time to see that the three traffic lights that were usually red were yellow. Praise God! Anthony flew through the three intersections- hospital in sight. He turned on his hazards and rolled down his window to gesture to the police that he saw them and was heading to the hospital.
We found our way to the ER entrance and threw the truck doors open to get out when I heard a booming, “Sir, stay in your car!” By now, my left hip was cramping, and there was no way I was staying in the car. I jumped out and leaned against the truck, relieved to finally be able to straighten my legs. I cried out, “I can’t! Please don’t make me! Please don’t make me!” An officer came around to my side of the truck and calmly explained that he would escort me into the hospital. Another two contractions quickly passed before I allowed him to take me under the elbow and guide me into the emergency entrance, where he left me with the front desk attendant in the empty waiting room.
Anthony still outside, I asked the front desk man where the bathroom was. I had to pee so badly! “That way and to the right.” So I went that way and to the right and ended up in some sort of gaming room. “This isn’t the bathroom,” I cried out before stumbling a little farther “that way” and took the next right, down the longest hallway ever to the ladies’ room that, of course, was at the very end.
I was still carrying my winter jacket and was appalled that the long, empty wall in the bathroom didn’t have a single jacket hook. It felt like I was in a drunken haze, and I momentarily considered throwing my jacket on the floor. Still sober though, I decided against it (hospital and all) and tossed my jacket over the top of the stall door. The latch was far too short for the socket, and the door swung open just as I started to pull down my pants. My drunken self thought, “Forget it. It’s 2 in the morning. No one is here. Just go pee,” but my sober self fumbled with the latch for several moments before finally locking the door sitting down.
I did pee a little. When I wiped, there was a lot of very bloody mucus. Oh, I was SO dilated. Between the constant contractions and my large belly, it was too much work to completely clean myself. I pulled up my favorite comfy sweatpants (probably getting some blood on them), grabbed my jacket, and left the bathroom.
I returned to the ER front desk where Anthony was waiting alongside our bag and a man with a wheelchair. The man wanted me to get in, but I wanted to walk. I firmly (and maybe loudly) told him, “I don’t want to! Tell me where to go!” He reluctantly led us through a set of double doors, asking how far apart my contractions had been. I hadn’t timed them but replied “30 seconds,” just to answer his question. He asked if I felt like I had to poop (supposedly a common sensation during the pushing stage of labor). Although I felt a lot of rectal pressure, it wasn’t the same feeling as having to poop, so I told him no. It still felt like I had to pee even though I just did.
He led us slowly past ER patient rooms and still wouldn’t tell me where to go. He wanted me to stop there in the ER hallway. A man I assumed was an ER tech met us there with a monitor, and Wheelchair Man told him he thought it was 50/50 I would have the baby in the ER. He told the ER tech, “Maybe you should come with us.”
Wheelchair Man and the ER tech discussed how far apart my contractions were and the exact locations at which I had had each contraction since arriving at the hospital. I was still leading the way, frustrated no one would tell me where to go. I went through the next set of doors and asked, “Is this where I go? Which way do I go?” In that moment, Wheelchair Man became more firm and decisive. “Listen, either you have to ride in the chair, or you’re going to have a baby right here [in the ER].”
I got in the chair backwards on my knees. Now Wheelchair Man didn’t want to push the chair. There was no way I was sitting on my butt. Anthony told him to just go. I gripped the wheelchair and closed my eyes as the contractions kept coming intensely and relentlessly. Wheelchair Man told the ER tech, “Maybe you should at least go with us to the elevator.”
Finally, Wheelchair Man picked up the pace. He rushed us to the elevator. The elevator came quickly, and Wheelchair Man sent the ER tech away.
Labor and delivery
I don’t remember the elevator ride, but we arrived at Labor and Delivery at 2:32am, where a nurse at the front desk seemed to be under the impression that we were going to check in. No way. I reeeally had to pee. One nurse quickly decided to get me into the nearest delivery room so I could use the bathroom. I don’t remember getting out of the wheelchair. I just wanted to take off my pants and go pee.
I stumbled my way into the bathroom where I noticed a variety of birthing balls in the tub and secured to the walls. I was a mix of amused, relieved, and disappointed to realize I wouldn’t be needing any of them. Anthony helped me in the bathroom, but I couldn’t pee. I still felt like I REALLY needed to pee. I gave up and climbed into the delivery bed, where I knew any fluids that leaked out of my body were fair game! I could finally relax and let it ALL happen.
I started on my back and quickly flipped to my hands and knees, all contractions and moans. The birth team filled my room, but I was facing a wall and couldn’t see any of them. It felt like there were five people in my vagina at once, like my vagina was spread open and you could look right into it. (Anthony told me later there were only two, but even then, it felt like all four of their hands were in my vagina at the same time.)
“Her cervix is gone.”
“He’s a strong one!”
“Should we have her change into a gown?”
“No, we’ll have to work around it.”
At about 2:40am, my water broke. I felt it gush down my legs to my socks. I was thankful it had stayed intact for so long because not only did I not make a mess in the truck, but I knew having intact water could cushion contractions- a relief for both mother and baby. It had broken just in time.
My body was spontaneously pushing. The groaning had turned into wordless shouts of “Ahhh” that dried out my throat and made me feel thirsty. I could tell Judah had moved down into the birth canal because it now felt like my rectum was being flattened with each contraction. Surprisingly, this didn’t hurt and was a welcome relief from the downward pressure I had been feeling all that time before.
I was encouraged to slow my breathing. Voices behind me were telling me to “blow on the bed” and “blow like you’re blowing up a balloon.” I didn’t understand this instruction, and frankly, I didn’t care enough to decipher it. My body was doing a fine job, and I felt no need to change things now. Finally, Anthony put his hand against the bed in front of me and told me to blow into it. Now I understood what I was supposed to do, and I trusted any instruction Anthony gave me.
As I was blowing into his hand, I realized the birth team was trying to slow down my pushing, probably so I wouldn’t tear. With this technique, two contractions passed without my body spontaneously pushing. It was working! The birth team had discovered that I had what I understood to be a cervical lip: a tiny, soft bit of cervix that was getting in the way of Judah’s descent. They needed me to slow down pushing so they could guide the cervical lip out of the way.
I felt a fetal doppler poking around my lower left belly, but the nurse had trouble using it in my position. She told me she had to do internal monitoring, which her faceless voice explained was a clip on the baby’s head that measures his heart rate. I had heard of internal monitoring but never knew what it was, and I was momentarily confused about how they could touch his head while he was still inside me. I agreed.
I was still upright on my knees with my arms resting in the back of the bed, but it seemed Judah did not like that position. His heart rate was low. The birth team told me I had to get onto my back and that he needed to come out, so I really needed to push. I had so much pain lying on my back and had trouble changing positions. Once I was on my back, Judah’s heart rate went from the 60s to the 100s. My birth team (still faceless voices in the fog of labor) encouraged me that Judah liked that position better. I looked at Anthony and asked frantically, “It’s for him? It’s for him?”
“Yes, it’s for him.”
I knew then that I could tolerate the new position. The birth team said they were going to check my cervix because of the cervical lip. I had hoped to avoid all cervical checks and knew from my previous labors how much more painful they were during contractions. I cried out, “I don’t want to do this part! I don’t want to do this part!”
Anthony said, calmly, “Look at me… I know.” I remember looking into Anthony’s eyes. I focused on his eye color and calmed down. Everything was happening so fast, but I understood the need for the cervical check and appreciated the birth team vocalizing everything they were doing as they were doing it since there wasn’t time for informed consent.
I was back to pushing involuntarily and shouting with each contraction. This was one heck of a way to “breathe the baby down.” My throat was so dry, it felt like it was closing and would cut off my air supply at any moment, but there was no time to have a sip of water. A voice said, “Ok, Jalina. On the next push.” I shouted and felt Judah’s head come out! “Is he coming out?! Is he coming out?!”
Anthony answered, “Yes!”
Someone instructed me, “With this next contraction, I need you to push. Give it your all. Right back into it.” I ignored the instruction to hold my breath with the next contraction. Instead, I just held back shouting with my final push. I pulled my legs back, hunched over my belly, bore down, and felt Judah slip out!
I saw the reflection of his birth in the window across from me before seeing him lifted into the air and placed on my belly.
Judah was born at 2:45am on March 2nd, measuring 7lbz 2oz and 20in long.
I cried, “Judah. Judah. Mommy loves you so much.” This was the fastest I had bonded with any of my three children. This was the rush of hormones I had longed to experience.
It was time to deliver the placenta. I had no idea what to expect from this because I didn’t notice this part with either of my epidural births. It was easy. Just one gentle push, and the placenta was out. I heard someone say we were going to wait for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting it. I was focused on Judah but nodded and was so happy that that was their definition of delayed cord clamping since I know other facilities put a time limit on it. Anthony later said it took about 8 minutes. He got to cut the cord. I love that my birth team was calm and collected enough to remember to include Anthony in that way.
I had a tiny 2nd degree tear- a miracle and a relief after such a fast and ferocious birth. The OB encouraged me to focus on Judah while she repaired the tear, and there was no pain.
Slowly, my birth team cleared out until only one nurse was left in the room with us. She finished some charting and brought me some toast- lots of toast- before leaving the three of us to enjoy our first hour together. I fed Judah, and Anthony fed me. Between ravenous bites, I squeezed in sips of water and conversation with Anthony about his run-in with the police.
I had only seen one set of lights before turning around in the truck, but by the time we pulled up to the ER, there were FIVE police cars- sirens and all! Anthony said the officers had all exited their vehicles and were staged (guns out) behind their car doors as one officer approached Anthony to talk to him. They had clocked him at 80mph in a 55mph zone: grounds for a reckless driving charge. Seeing me in labor, the officer told Anthony he understood the circumstances and not to let it happen again.
I did it! Crazy hair after a fast and ferocious birth.
I had asked for a FAST birth, and God delivered. Judah was born at 80 miles per hour. God is so funny!
With 13 minutes between our arrival at L&D and Judah’s birth, I knew that if any factor had been different- Anthony’s driving speed or the time of day- we likely wouldn’t have made it into the hospital. I thank God for every detail, from the middle-of-the-night birth to the yellow traffic lights leading to the hospital! I thank him for giving me the privacy of the truck to labor without fear of cervical checks or disturbing other mamas. I thank him for a labor so fast that I didn’t even have time to consider an epidural by the time we arrived at L&D.
Soon, our sweet L&D nurse, Amy, came back to help me use the bathroom for the first time and move us from L&D to the Mother-Baby unit. She gave me a hug goodbye, and we got settled into our room. I couldn’t believe it was already 5am!
Even our first Mother-Baby nurse, Alma, made the comment, “Time is going so quickly!” God had taken away time. All this had happened, and it was already the start of a new day with a new human. Our hospital stay was the best we could have hoped for. The chocolate pudding was the best I’d ever had (I may have eaten the unit’s entire stash) and a sweet relief for my throat that was sore the whole time from all the shouting during delivery.
On Judah’s due date, less than 36 hours after the start of labor, we were on our way home to begin our lives as a family of five. It wasn’t a problem that I had worn my warm “going home” outfit to the hospital because God gave us the most beautiful day in March to bring home our baby: sunny and 60 degrees. Perfect weather for one of the house dresses I had packed for our hospital stay.
Our God is an abundant and redemptive God. He is in the details. All glory to him.
“And she conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ Therefore she named him Judah” Genesis 29:35a.
1130p-0030a: 3 strong contractions
0030 woke up Anthony, started packing
0046 called midwife
0104 called Dad to come stay with boys
0107 midwife called, told to come in for labor check
0115ish Dad arrived, we left
0232 Arrived at L&D
0240 water broke
0245 Judah born!