All birth pictures were taken by the talented and wonderful Layna Rae Photography.
"We didn't count on suffering, didn't count on pain. But if the blessing's in the valley, then in the river I will remain. Find me in the river, find me there. Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare."
(Find Me In The River, Delirious)
Friday AM: Braxton Hicks...?
I had a feeling. That malaise the day before, the quiet sense to withdraw into the stillness of home, Braxton Hicks that seemed a little less practice and a little more warm up.
First-baby-me would have sounded the alarm. Third-baby-me was reluctant to even pay attention. I'm no stranger to the prodromal game. There was no pattern. No clear signs pointing to imminent labor. Everything I felt could indicate he was coming in twelve hours or twelve days, so none of it meant much to me. Maybe it didn't mean much because I was only 39 weeks and all I knew of my babies was that they grew inside for 41+ weeks. Maybe it didn't mean much because I was afraid of what it could mean and I simply wasn't 'ready'.
The crib wasn't assembled (as is still true today). The baby clothes were washed, but not put away. Instead of a nursery, there was a room with an empty dresser, the pieces of a bed, a box full of clothes and a disheveled pile of I-dont-know-where-to-put-that stuff. There was no hospital bag. No birth plan (bad doula). 5,000 articles of clothing in baskets, on the sofa and on the floor. Clean. But on the floor (as is also true today). Plus, I had a full weekend planned and it was my last pre-baby thing before sinking into the beautiful, messy, sleepy postpartum months.
So when my midwife offered to help move things along, I said "not yet." And when she suggested I bind up my belly to see if it started labor, I said I would wait until Monday.
Monday was my get ready for labor day. My day to write a letter to the baby and pack a bag and put the crib together and maybe even clean the bathrooms...eh, maybe not, but I planned to clean the bathrooms and that's the same thing. It really is. That was Monday stuff and this was Friday.
First-baby-me tried everything to get Ian out - castor oil, acupuncture, speed walking, eggplant parmesan...other stuff....and some of the saddest prayers you've ever heard from a girl who thought that being pregnant was the hardest part of motherhood and that having a new baby had to be easier than my end of pregnancy misery.
Now here I was, turning down eviction offers, convinced everything was normal.
4:00 PM: Shower, time contractions, rest
Normal was unrealistic. A distracted dinner with the boys, group texts with my people, watching BJ take the boys to bed and wondering if they would wake up to a different world than the one they fell asleep knowing. Contractions that came 10 minutes apart, 5 minutes apart, 12 minutes apart...strong contractions doing the hard work they were designed to do, but unpredictable in their timing. A few phone calls to my midwife (Melanie), texts with my doula and dear friend (Amber). A little conversation with Jack promising him I was ready, it was okay, and we were excited to meet him.
9:30 PM: Bed
We prayed, said goodnight and I closed my eyes, thinking it might taper off with sleep.
Ten minutes in the dark, resting next to the man I feel the safest with, the one with whom vulnerability is wholly natural, ten minutes next to him and my body decided it was safe to have this baby. What had been strong contractions were now STRONG contractions. Each effort to sink into sleep was met with a longer, stronger, deeper wave. Or as BJ later described, I was "louder" now than I was before.
After THREE attempts to get the truck over the ice at the end of our driveway - I won't share with you the words I used in that moment, let's just say they were colorful - we were off.
Saturday 12:10 AM: Arrive, 3cm, Smile, Cry, Rest, Cry, Rest
I know the third baby rule. The third baby rule says that all bets are off. I know they have a reputation of being unpredictable, but all my optimism wanted to believe this was going to be like Parker's birth - walk in at 8cm and hold my baby earth-side an hour later.
Apparently not. I was 3cm. THREE. I smiled and tried to stay positive, but all I could think was "This isn't fair. Somebody bring me the labor my body earned by pushing out the first two." Instead I smiled. And then I cried. Not once had I imagined a long labor, but there it was, staring me down and the only way to the other side was through it.
They gave us the room and we settled in. BJ stretched out behind me, holding me tight during contractions, both of us resting in between, drifting into light sleep.
I imagined a conversation with the nurse:
Nurse: "Do you need anything else?"
Me: "When you get a chance, could you please bring another ginger ale? Oh, and a bag of Pitocin and an epidural. Let's just crank that thing up. Thanks!"
I laughed a little and let it go, because that was not my most pervading thought lying there in the dark. So much larger than that little thought was an overwhelming peace. I remember BJ's arms around me. I remember how soft my pillow felt in contrast to the power of the contractions. I remember the dark room was soothing. And I remember the music. We cycled through Bethel's The Loft Sessions three or four times that night, but one chorus seemed to rise above the rest. It's all I hear as I think back on those hours.
"Spirit of the Living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow."
That peace carried me through the night, through breaks in rest and more tears, and a return back to bed.
6:00 AM: "Okay baby, time to listen to mama. Today is our day."
I was done being still. I was as rested as I could be on this side. BJ slept. I opened the blinds to let the first hints of sun sneak into the room and Jack and I walked. We moved together, rocking, swaying, listening to music, praying. Soft whispers sent out in trust, believing that today was the day. That early morning hour was about the three of us - me, Jack and a faithful, sovereign God.
The simplest definition I've heard for the word "holy" is set apart for God. Sometimes we can't recognize the holiness of a place until we look back on it. Sometimes we are acutely aware of the sacred as our feet move through it. This was the latter and I was thankful to be there, in an hour set apart.
7:40 AM: 5-6cm
A few more tears. Melanie's voice reminding me that I was more than half-way through. I knew she was right. Fresh tears. Regroup. Refresh.
8:20 AM: Into the water
First-labor-me was scared and too lost in my own head to be present with BJ.
Second-labor-me hardly had time to look him in the eye before Parker came flying out.
I had two dreams for Jack's birth: (1) To be present and enjoy the experience with BJ. (2) To pull Jack straight to my chest and for him to stay there (both Ian and Parker needed extra encouragement that required they move to the warmer before coming to me).
My first dream came true 100 times over. Holding me during the night, walking with me in the morning, holding my hand by the water, he never wavered. BJ isn't a man of many words when it comes to support. Instead, he quite literally held me up when my knees gave way. He switched out cold rags, brought food, organized care for our boys, and he never looked away.
Labor is beautiful and messy and bloody and smelly and exhausting. It is a raw, desperately vulnerable kind of beauty. And he never backed down. I walked away from Jack's birth more in love with him than just 24 hours before.
10:45 AM: Out of the tub, 9cm
11:30 AM: "Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge. People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side. But you walk that bridge alone.” -African Proverb
There are times in labor when we need other women to walk us to that bridge and we need them more than anyone else, even our partners. Those moments were spread throughout our time at the hospital - encouragement here, birth wisdom there, a hand that understands the pain in my back and understands how to ease it, eyes that can say "I know."
And for me, in Jack's birth, there came a point when it was the women I needed fully and completely. I needed BJ there and he never left my side, but I needed those women too, with all their strength and grace and empathy. Squeezing my hand, holding my face, kneading my back, standing with me in a solidarity that knows. Standing with me in the tradition of women for thousands of years - reminding us that childbirth, like motherhood, is not something we do alone.
11:50 AM: Crazy Town
So much of Jack's birth was marked by peacefulness. It was still, dark, quiet. In those last twenty minutes though, whatever calm I had, I lost. My team never moved, holding me tight and promising me I was safe, but I had already hit the panic button.
Up to this point, a year of birth work had been my ally. But here, in this moment, my mind flashed with memories of things I'd seen go wrong; and even though my circumstances were different from theirs, the reasoning part of my brain had signed off.
Melanie, in all her wisdom and years of experience, knew what needed to happen. She got me up, made me move and sat me down on the birth stool with BJ behind me. I sank into the arms that had held me for so many hours.
Four minutes later, Melanie said, "Cara, reach down and pick up your baby!"
12:27 PM: THIS. PRAISE!
My second dream, that Jack would come straight to my chest and not need to leave, is exactly what happened. He was healthy and perfect in every way.
I could hear BJ crying behind me, his chest moving against my back, his face next to mine. We both knew what a miracle this moment was. We remembered how Jack's story began last summer, and we praised God for the immeasurable gift of this day and this child.