Ellie’s Story

Vonda and I met in early 2014 when we were both working as doulas in the Jacksonville & St Augustine area. I had recently moved to Florida and her sweet demeanor drew me to her right away. Fast forward 2 years and she was the strong yet gentle presence that helped my husband and I welcome our sweet boy into the world. I am forever grateful for Vonda’s friendship and the gifts that she employs so effortlessly in such pivotal moments in family’s lives. We can’t imagine birthing without her! Here is the story of that glorious morning in November:

August’s birth story began much earlier in my life than six weeks
ago. I attended my first birth at the age of 17, the night before my
high school graduation. I missed my graduation rehearsal but I was
walking on clouds for days. I remember driving home after being up
with that first time mama for the better part of 3 days and thinking
“No one on this road has been a part of something so miraculous as I
just was…Unless they also just left a birth.” I was so honored and I
was hooked. I became a certified birth doula later that year.

Birth had impacted my life so much that in one of my first
real conversations with my now husband, I asked him how he felt about
homebirth. It was in my top “non-negotiable” issues I needed to be
sure we were on the same page about before we proceeded with our
relationship. (Nerd*) We hadn’t even held hands yet, but I needed to
know that if it was gonna get serious, he’d be up for having babies in
a bath tub. He said he was up for it so I married him. We have been married for three and a half wonderful years now and live
on a little farm in the boondocks of North East Florida. When we
discovered we were going to be parents early this year, I knew I
wanted to deliver him at a birth center since we live nearly an hour
from just about everything. The UF Health Birth Plan Center in Jacksonville
was an amazing option to have available to us. I knew Cindy Williams
(CNM) already thanks to working in the birth community. I was planning to
contact the birth center to begin care around 8-12 weeks but I began
bleeding only a few days after I found out I was pregnant. I was
devastated and Cindy was such a sweet blessing to be able to speak to
right away. She had me come in to confirm a heartbeat on an ultrasound
at 7 weeks and that beautiful sight on the ultrasound and her sweet
presence were both such reassuring gifts.

The rest of my pregnancy went beautifully until the second trimester when I
had a gestational diabetes scare and had to begin monitoring my blood
sugar. I was shocked and devastated. Having GD would mean I was high
risk and it would be safer for me and baby to deliver at the hospital.
If I was truly a diabetic, I wanted to deliver my baby where he would
have access to the additional resources he would need and understood
completely the Birth Center’s need to have me deliver at the hospital- but I was
still devastated and hopeful for better news. I failed the GD
screening test but in the next 3 months of tracking my blood
sugar, I never had one that was out of normal range, regardless of
what I ate. My Hemoglobin A1C was 5.1, I only gained a small amount my
entire pregnancy and every growth scan for baby measured beautifully.
Cindy and Ashley and the other midwives went above and beyond
advocating for me, running the additional tests to help prove my case
and at 37 weeks got me declared officially “not diabetic” and approved
by the midwives and OB’s to deliver at the birth center. I was so
thankful not to be thrown to the curb after those initial screening’s
results. They knew how much I wanted to birth with them and they
wanted so badly to make it happen for me- the UF health team is a
dream team. The collaborative efforts of the midwives, pediatricians
and OB’s is truly patient focused and natural birth friendly. I loved
knowing that even if I had to deliver at the hospital, I had fantastic
care providers (and friends. I happen to work there.)

Just 2 weeks after being officially approved to deliver at the birth center, I went
into labor with my sweet baby. I was exactly 39 weeks pregnant and had
just completed my last day of Nursing School clinicals for the
semester. (When I found out I was pregnant and realized I would still
be in school when I was due, I began praying that I would have this
baby the weekend before Thanksgiving break so I could enjoy him and
have a little rest. The Lord SO graciously answered this prayer
exactly! )

 

I’d had the most boring clinical day but boring was my speed at this
point in pregnancy. I went to Publix on my way home to get some
groceries and the cashier asked me when I was due. I told her “Next
Thursday but I’m hoping to have him today.” she was shocked and
laughed. I came home and cooked, cut up fruit, and made some snacks
and thought “I sure hope I don’t eat all these before I go into labor
like the snacks and food I made last week.” The fridge was fully
stocked and ready. Everything was ready. Jonathan and I had the most relaxing evening
at home playing the guitar and piano together. I began having what I thought were slightly crampy Braxton Hicks around 10:30pm but I went to bed. An hour later I woke up to one

that made me uncomfortable to lay down so I got up and went to the
bathroom. I had been having “bloody show” and lots of braxton hicks for a week so that wasn’t
shocking to me anymore but lets just say my bowels decided to clean
themselves out. I spent the next hour or so trying to go back to bed
but had to go to the bathroom instead. I could feel the “pressure waves” (or whatever you choose to call them) reaching
more around my back and low in front pretty consistently. I started
timing them with a contraction timing app.  When I realized they
were coming consistently between 2-3 minutes apart I texted my sister in
Savannah, GA (who would be attending as our photographer) to give her
a heads up as she had about a 2 hour drive. I never guessed it was real active labor, but I figured it
could have been the start of something. They were only lasting 35-45
seconds but they were coming very consistently every 2-3 minutes. I
also texted Vonda. Although my contractions were consistent
and close, they didn’t feel overwhelmingly strong. I was just sitting on my birth ball and walking around my quiet house relaxing through them as they came. Vonda called me
almost right away and told me she was just getting home from her fourth birth in a week(!) and she was going to try to get some sleep but to
take a shower, try to go back to bed and call her if things got more
serious. At the point that I was on the phone with her, I realized I
wasn’t enjoying talking when I was having these contractions. They
weren’t painful but they required all my attention to relax in order
to ensure that they weren’t painful. (Hypnobrthing®relaxation
techniques are legit. Go tell your sisters and friends.) It seems
counterintuitive to relax during contractions but it makes ALL the
difference between tight belly and painful belly.

I got in the shower but nothing slowed down. I decided to get out and
check my cervix.  (*I’m not a midwife, but I do know what my own cervix
normally feels like thanks to practicing Natural Family Planning for 3
years.* ) My cervix was no where to be found! I guessed this meant I was
fully effaced. When i did find the hole that I assumed was my cervix,
I could spread my two fingers about an inch and a half apart on the
inside of the hole and felt something bulging out of the hole. Bag of
waters? Not sure. I decided to call the Water Birth Center and get some
advice on what I should do. They said to call when my contractions
were 4-5 minutes apart, and lasting a minute for over an hour. Mine
had started at 2-3 minutes apart but only lasted about 45 seconds so I wasn’t fitting the description. ha. It
was about 1:30am at this point- 2 hours into what seemed like a
pattern of labor. I called the Birth Center and they said the midwife
on call would be getting in touch with me in just a moment.

Within minutes, Cindy called me. I was surprised to hear her voice! I
hoped she would be the one on call but didn’t think it likely. She was
the one who had done our ultrasound scan to make sure I hadn’t lost
the baby when I had been bleeding. She was the one who advocated for
me when there was a chance I wouldn’t be a candidate for a birth
center birth anymore. She was a steady reassuring presence at every
step of my pregnancy so it seemed very fitting that she should be the
one to help me birth him. I told her what was going on and what I had
found when I checked my cervix. She said “Wow. Well, if it sounds like
what you’re describing, you could be about 5cm.” I thought to myself-
there’s no way. I must have measured wrong. She told me it sounded
like I was handling everything really well but I may be progressing
fast. She asked how far away we lived. I told her an hour. She said
“Oh! Well, you should probably go ahead and come in then.” I was
apprehensive. These contractions were still not what I expected labor
to feel like, they were just consistent. I was a first-time mom after
all. And they can take for.ev.er.

I was envisioning waking everyone up, getting to the birth center and
being sent home because I wasn’t really in labor and didn’t know
anything about checking cervixes. (Way to go, Ellie!) She asked if we
could meet her at the birth center in an hour- I said, “how about lets
meet there at 3am?” She agreed. I was still nervous that I would ruin
everyones night for no reason but thankfully, these contractions kept
coming. I decided it was time to wake Jonathan up. I tried tapping him
and shaking him gently but he was out. I started having a contraction
so I leaned on the bed and started rocking my hips back and forth-
this would instantly loosen everything up and make it painless- just tight. I
managed to keep poking him as I was doing this and said “Hey. Wake up.
I think it’s time to go to the birth center.” He stirred, looked at
the clock and said “Its early.” I asked him if he wanted me to wait
til later and he said “Sure, that would be nice.” we laughed as he got
himself out of bed and proceeded to shave and make himself some eggs.
I began packing up the fridge in between contractions since I thought
we’d at least be at the birth center all day. Our other bags were
packed so it didn’t take long to get everything ready. During  all of
this preparation, Cindy called me again around 2:15am and said she
wanted us to be heading on in. I told Jonathan Cindy wanted him to
hurry up. 🙂 We got in the truck and I leaned the front seat back and
sat backwards on it where I could be on all fours and relax more
easily through the contractions. I put my earphones in and listened to
the Hypnobirthing® track. It was so helpful in getting
my mind to help my body stay relaxed. Hypnobirthing® helped me think
about labor in such a helpful way- teaching me to welcome the
contractions, to envision what they were doing in my body to help
bring my baby to me. This process of thinking about them correctly and
welcoming what my body was doing was such a powerful tool. It taught
me to be thankful for each contraction, rather than dread them. I truly believe this helped me work with my body instead of against it. This
along with my amazing support team made labor so easy and peaceful for
me. Nobody ever told me to lay on my back or to “try to be still so the monitors will work”, etc. In fact, nobody ever told me to do anything. It was just this peaceful party of 6 quiet, helpful, loving people who trusted that my body knew how to birth my baby.

We got in the truck and Jonathan prayed over me before we headed off
down our long dirt road and I prayed that I would be far enough along
to get in the tub when we got there. Ha! Jonathan asked if I was cold
and I assured him I wasn’t but noticed that I was shaking as well.
“Hormones.” I thought to myself. Good sign…maybe we won’t have to
come home in an hour after all.
Throughout pregnancy, I was dreading the hour long drive to the birth
center while in labor but it was so easy and felt so fast. Turns out-
it was so fast thanks to the lead foot of my husband! Ha! We arrived
at the birth center shortly after 3am and I had a few contractions on
the way in that required me to stop and relax and rock my hips. If I
could find something to lean my upper body on, they were literally
painless tightenings of my abdomen. I was still so surprised by this! I
expected them to be so painful.  After business hours, the Emergency
Room entrance to the the building that the birth center is in is the
only one unlocked. Security quickly realized why we were there and got
us up the elevator to the birth center on the 4th floor. I realized as
I was talking to the security guard that my voice sounded funny- then
realized I still had my mouth guard in my mouth from when I was
asleep! Ha! I wasn’t gritting my teeth but I did like the way it felt
in my mouth during contractions so I labored with my nerdy mouthguard
almost until I gave birth.

Cindy met us at the birth center door and welcomed us into the birth
room that she had all set up. She texted me while we were on our way
and asked which room I would like. I told her I had no preference but
when we arrived, she had set up the one that I had always envisioned
myself in. She said she picked it because the bed was lower and easier
for me to get and out of which was thoughtful because I’m not exactly
a giant. 🙂

Jonathan had our overnight bags, our giant cooler bag of food and my pillow.
We looked like we were moving in and we were prepared to be there for
the long haul. We were getting settled and Cindy asked if I would want
to get in the tub. I told her I definitely would as soon as I was far
enough along. She started to fill it up as she was asking if I was ok
with her checking my cervix to see where we were at. I told her I was
and asked if she was sure we should start the tub yet- I didn’t want
it to get cold and have to stare at it while I was only 3cm dilated
and had hours to go. She assured me it takes a while to fill up and
she would just go ahead and get it ready. A few minutes later, she
checked my cervix and said “Looks like you were right! I’d say 5-6, do
you mind if I sweep your membranes a little? Oh, more like 7-8cm.”

I said- “What?! Are you sure?!” I then texted My sister and Vonda and
asked Cindy to confirm…”5 or 6 cm and stretches to 7?” She said,
“No, I’d definitely say 7-8cm.”
I was never so shocked to hear anything in my life. I’d barely felt
like I’d been in labor. I had to focus through the contractions but
they didn’t overwhelm me. I couldn’t believe how well my body was
opening up! “I can get in the tub then?!” She assured me I could. I
was so sweetly surprised to find out that I was in the home stretch
and could definitely get in the tub! Jonathan and I were so surprised
and thankful at how the Lord was answering our prayers.
We got in the tub and Jonathan put some music on. I realized I liked
sitting on my knees and leaning my arms over the side of the tub. At
this point I could still interact with everyone very easily in between
contractions but during them I was able to tune completely out and
relax. Cindy turned out the lights and turned on the candles. It was
dreamy.

I had no concept of what time it was or how long anything was taking. I just reminded myself that it only takes as long as it needs to. I was just along for the ride.
It just seemed like everything was happening quickly and perfectly.
Vonda arrived around 4am and my sister arrived about 20 minutes after
her. I was so thankful that everyone made it in time! Things were
getting a little more intense at this point and my back was beginning
to hurt during contractions. Jonathan was behind me in the tub and
would hold pressure on my back during the contractions which would
alleviate the pain completely. As they would begin, I would say
“Ok…” and he knew to begin pushing on my back. It was perfect. As it
got closer to pushing, the back pain got more intense and “Ok” turned
into “Help me.” Haha. He got the hint and was amazing. Vonda sat
in front of me and would remind me to keep my jaw and forehead and
shoulders loose, she would remind me of what was happening and how I
could just give in and let my body do it all for me. I thought I was
relaxing until she would prompt me and I would realize I could relax
even more and they became even easier. She was so helpful. She put the
diffuser on with lavender oil and it smelled heavenly. My sister was
sitting with us right outside the tub taking pictures and encouraging
me, Jonathan was supporting me from behind and being so sweet and
affectionate to me, whispering encouraging words and scriptures in my
ear at just the right times and it just felt like such a perfect place
to have a baby. I couldn’t get over how lovely it all was.

Soon I began to feel nauseous and a little warm. They brought me cool
rags, a trash can and some peppermint oil. I realized that I was
starting to sound like someone who was pushing. I wasn’t pushing
voluntarily but I’d heard the sound enough times to know that my body
was starting to push for me. I kind of noticed Vonda getting up and
figured when she returned with Cindy that she thought I was pushing
too. They were checking August’s heart tones and my vital signs
sporadically and we were both doing great. I remember looking up and
seeing my heart rate and thinking- I thought labor would be a lot
harder than this. Not that I’d be resting in a tub with my heart rate
in the 80’s.

My legs began falling asleep from sitting on my knees so I tried
sitting in a few different positions. It would work for a second but
then I’d have a contraction and feel miserably uncomfortable if
Jonathan couldn’t push on my back so I’d go right back to where my
legs were asleep. I was thinking- if only I could have circulation and
sit like this it would be perfect. Vonda encouraged me to stand up
so I began a slow process of trying to find a new spot where I could
be comfortable. I began throwing up at this point and started to feel
like this baby was coming down the wrong canal and I was going to
birth to him via my rectum. Jonathan stood up as well and I put my
arms around his neck and we started swaying back and forth. They
drained the tub and asked if i wanted to get out. I looked at the bed
and thought- there is NO way I want to get in that to have him. I
decided I was fine where I was but asked if it was ok. I said “I don’t
want to tear”- Cindy reassured me that what I was doing was great and
she would help me. Then I said “I don’t want him to fall in the tub.”
and there was chuckling and more reassurance that they were ready for
him. Vonda came from some crazy angle and was able to hold pressure on
my back which I still very much needed. I began to squat during my
contractions and started making weird tribal noises which were also
involuntary. I had my arms around Jonathan’s neck and somehow he had
me under my arms where he was completely supporting me. I buried my
face in his chest and bit him a few times. (Sorry, love. Thank you.) I
was so thankful that I was able to do what felt right for my body and
although it wasn’t comfortable, I was never afraid. The best word I
can think of for pushing is overwhelming- but even this word isn’t
accurate because I feel like that doesn’t express how it is still
somehow very empowering. Its just something that has taken over your
body while demanding an active role in the process. It was amazing. I
did cuss during this stage. I apologize to those who were listeners. Sometimes you just
feel the need to say something when you’re body is opening wide and
there are no other words that seem right for the moment. Haha.

This part wasn’t my favorite part of labor. Between the nausea and the
pressure, it just feels like you need to do something to get
comfortable again. My body began pushing during every contraction and
I thought to myself- “I’m so glad nobody is telling me to push on my
own.” I just wanted my body to do it and did NOT feel like doing
anything on my own in between. I had relief from the pressure in
between the contractions but during them it was as if my body was
throwing up, just in a downward motion. I couldn’t hold it in but I
kind of wanted to- but I also wanted to get it over with. I loved
knowing it wouldn’t last forever. I just had to do it.
My water broke eleven minutes before delivery as I was standing- it
was like a water balloon popped in between my legs. So weird. Soon I could feel him descending and I felt his head starting
to make its way down. I felt stretching but it wasn’t painful. I knew
he was coming and I was relieved and excited. I don’t know how long I
pushed but once I stood up it couldn’t have been that long. Cindy was
supporting his head and my perineum and it was just enough help to
make me feel confident to let my body get him out all the way. I gave
in to every push and soon I felt his head come farther and farther and
then it was out! I was expecting the “ring of fire” but it never came.
Then those shoulders and body came wiggling behind him and they
immediately passed me this cheesy little guy (who looked like he’d
been dunked in crisco) up through my legs with eyes wide open and
bright red hair and I couldn’t believe that I was looking into this
little person’s eyes. Then I remember looking up at Jonathan and just
being amazed and thankful and so overwhelmingly happy.  Jonathan told me all I could say was “My baby! My baby…”

We did it. He was here.

They helped me out of the tub to the bed and we inspected him. He was a
boy. He was a red head! He was doing perfectly and let out the
sweetest little cries to let us know he was doing great. He was born
at 5:47am. We sat in the bed while they did their assessments on us,
he latched right away like a champion and has been eating great ever
since. The morning sunshine was coming through the windows and we were
all just basking in the joy that was overflowing from that room. What
a sweet gift from the Lord that morning had been. It was glorious.
Triumphant. Miraculous. I never want to forget it.

They got me up to the shower- I was still shaking- not from cold, just
from lovely labor hormones- and my people were all so sweet and
helpful to me as they got me clean and comfortable.

They weighed August James in at 7lbs, 1/2 an oz, 21 inches long. He
was much bigger than everyone was anticipating!
We spent the morning in that birth magic haze and prepared to go home
around 10am.

I told Jonathan months before that if we had him at night, I wanted a
chicken biscuit on our way home for breakfast. (We don’t have a
chickfila near us but there is one right by the birth center.) I
realized as we were getting ready to leave that they were still
serving breakfast! All of my dreams for his birth had officially come
true. We were on our way home with our sweet baby and chicken
biscuits. I’ve never had a sweeter morning in all my life.

 

As we were driving, Jonathan told me “You know what today is don’t you? Its
November 18th. Nathan’s birthday.”
We both instantly were struck with tears at the realization of the
Lord’s added mercy in this little detail. His grandparent’s tragically
lost one of their children when he was struck by a car at 9 years old.
November 18th was his birthday.

We brought our baby home on the most beautiful day of the year. The
cows mooed their welcomes to him. We spent the day swooning over him
on the couch in the comfort of our own home. We couldn’t have dreamed
up a more perfect adventure and we’re excited for it to continue to
unfold. It felt so miraculous and supernatural to be involved in such a powerful event that I was so
active in, yet had no control over. I can’t express how honored and
thankful I am to have had the opportunity to be used by God in such a
way. I am still overwhelmed by the fact that I get to be mama to this
sweet baby boy and I am so thankful to have been chosen for the job.

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