Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Birth of James Theodore

I love giving birth. My labor to bring James home to us was an intimate, uplifting experience. I was left in grateful awe of what my body is capable of building and delivering. The scripture I once loved as a missionary rang true for me in a new way: 

"...for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up" (D&C 84:88).

Angels from both here and beyond gathered round about me during this sacred event. The Spirit was clearly present, but with a feminine touch. Giving birth at home freed me from distraction and worry, allowing me a heightened spiritual awareness and connection with my family, my body, and especially my new baby. 

When my second son was only 8 or 9 months old, Keenan told me he felt another child was eager to come to our family. My jaw dropped. I was tired. I couldn't imagine starting another pregnancy. I spent a month or so trying to forget about it before I, too, felt the window open to invite another little one to our life. After spending some time talking about details, deliberating about birth plans and finances, and perhaps putting it off a little (on my end), I took a positive pregnancy test on New Year's Day 2012. This ready little spirit was on his way.

With two boys already, Keenan and I decided it would be fun and suspenseful to discover the gender of this baby at birth. I avoided letting myself even lean one way or the other. One of the only times I slowed down enough to connect deeply with my baby was at a prenatal yoga class. For a brief moment in my mind, I saw a clear image of a baby boy, floating peacefully inside of me. I wasn't at all surprised when it turned out to be true.

Life was things things things straight until my Sept. 5 due date, the first day I started to feel settled. I had contractions all day that day, not extremely uncomfortable, but noticeable enough. They subsided around bedtime. Thursday the 6th was the first day I felt good about welcoming baby. I had a midwife appointment around noon, and though I hadn't planned to have a cervical exam, I decided it might help me gauge when my busy mom should be ready to fly out. I didn't think the baby would stay put through the weekend. Margo checked me and reported: 2+ cm dilated, 50% effaced, and baby in a very low position, -1 at the highest (0 position is the urge to push). Margo said that when labor started, it would go fast. Based on precedent (a 35-hour then a 24-hour labor), I had a hard time believing her. I was prepared for length.

Late that evening, I started having a strong contraction here and there. Daniel had had a symptomless fever during the day, and we decided Keenan should give him a blessing while he was sleeping. Since he was in white shirt and tie, I asked for a blessing as well, knowing I would need it for my impending labor (whenever it may be). The spirit was palpable. My main impression coming away from it was that I was being attended from the other side by women from our families. I felt sure Keenan's mother was there, several of my grandmothers before, and felt distinct ties to my Heavenly Mother. There was a very maternal spirit about the whole experience. It seems logical that family from the other side would be invested in the passing of a spirit into mortality, but I was deeply connected to it during this labor. I felt their elevated understanding and reverence for the birth process, as well as their faith and prayers on behalf of my family. Even as I now reflect on this experience, I feel strong, tender ties to my deceased family. It seems fitting that our little boy received names that each appear on both sides of our family: James Theodore.

Contractions continued after the blessing. From about 11:00 on, they were 5-10 minutes apart, and fairly intense. We talked to Margo, and she said to call back when they were a solid 5 minutes. I still had a hard time believing that this was really it.  

I tried to sleep, but as in my previous labors, I couldn't take the contractions lying down. I felt like I was in active labor, but couldn't figure out where early labor could have gone!?! Still in denial, I took some supplements anyway and Keenan made me a shock tea. I was grateful to have him there with me. I really relied on his spiritual and physical support.

As I made my way through the kitchen to the studio where I planned to give birth, I noticed a large praying mantis on the kitchen curtain. We rarely see this friendly insect even outside, and I took it as a good omen. A google search on the symbolism of the mantis leads to words like: stillness, awareness, mindfulness, calm, intuition, a symbol of patience and endurance, a messenger of God, the eye of God. There couldn't be more fitting words for a laboring woman.

The house was more or less ready, but we gathered things together, just in case this was for real. We had planned to set up the birth tub the next morning, but thought maybe we should go ahead and do it now. We paged Margo when contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. She and Kelly started heading over. By the time they got here, contractions were closer to 2-3 minutes. Margo said as she entered, "You sound pretty active."  "Yeah," I responded.

My wonderful midwives, Margo and Kelly

She was going to help us with the tub, but I decided we probably couldn't get it pumped and filled in time. I would have been right.

I had really wanted my mom to be present at this birth with my boys, but it became clear she wasn't going to make it. We called my best friend, Carrie, who came down to take pictures and be with the boys when they awoke. She was a strengthening presence and blessing to me that morning, noticing where she might lend a hand, caring for my boys, preparing food, picking up Mom from the airport a few hours later. People often take us for sisters, and it certainly seems so to me.

As labor continued to progress, I would sometimes try to help Keenan and the midwives with the birth preparations between contractions (it was hard to relinquish that desire and stay in labor land!). As soon as a contraction hit, however, I was hanging on Meredith's birth rope, leaning over the futon, or sitting on the birth ball, and always calling for Keenan's strong counter-pressure hard on my sacrum. It brought such relief.

Birthday ice cream: raw raspberry

Even though we were up all night, I was so much more cognizant than I was at the end of my first two lengthy labors. I really enjoyed that a lot. In spite of the heightened intensity of a fast labor, it seemed easier because of that awareness.

I always have the urge to push toward the end of transition, before I am fully dilated. In my first labor, I was so concerned about causing unnecessary swelling in my cervix, I held out until full dilation before pushing at all. I have never focused so acutely as I did during that first labor, and it paid off: the pushing, though very long, was not painful. With my second, my body unmercifully took over and resistance was futile. Daniel was born like a rocket, and the second stage was incredibly intense.

When I first started feeling pushy in this labor, I let myself do it, remembering that it didn't create a big problem in labor #2. I was really wanting the baby out, and thought that might help. After several contractions of intensifying pushing impulse, I let Kelly check me to see if I was good to go. I was at a 9, and she thought I ought to wait it out for a few more contractions. I tried hard not to push through these, but I was weary of the contractions, and wanted it all to end. Kelly suggested I lie on my side on the futon. I dreaded it would be too painful, but took her suggestion, hoping she might be able to hold the cervix back for baby to come through.

There was just a lip left to dilate, and my cervix stretched a little around baby as he descended. That was painful. Difficult as it is, I see greater value in intensifying my focus and patience through to full dilation as in my first labor (ending pain at the cervix). I was overwhelmed dealing with the ring of fire at the perineum while still experiencing cervical pain.

As he moved down the birth canal, there was an exciting splash into the air as my bag of waters gushed open, and I started to feel a burning as he crowned. I did not experience this infamous burning in my first two labors, and I wanted none of it. The midwives told me just to breathe (not to push willfully) in order to give my body time to stretch. It seemed impossible. Plus, I didn't want to. Somewhere in my mind, I think I preferred a tear to keeping that baby in any longer, especially when he was so close. "I can't!" I insisted. "You are," Margo countered. I felt like time was suspended as I tried with everything in me to simply breathe. It was surreal. Keenan told me he thought I should reach down and feel my baby's head. I was holding his hand tight and didn't want to let go, but I reluctantly reached down and felt the soft little head half-way out of me. That brought it all home. There was a baby being born, and he was mine. I waited another moment and then pushed him out. 4:58 AM. I pulled him up to my chest. He found air and started to cry. I hadn't seen whether he was a boy or a girl. Keenan lifted the towel to discover that he was indeed another boy. That felt right. As the midwives examined me, he gently cried and cried some more. I think we had the same feelings about it! My preoccupation with my own woes turned quickly into compassion for my baby's experience, and we commiserated together. Having him in my arms was joy.

Around 4:45 AM, we asked Carrie to wake 4-year-old Sammy so he could witness the birth. When she whispered to him in his bed that I was having our baby, he thought for a few seconds and responded, "Is this a dream?" He was well prepared with knowledge about how it worked and how I might act. He's always been an observer, internalizing everything, and very sensitive to people. I knew he could handle this. At first he came in and out of the room, trying to get comfortable. Then he watched in wonder: the delivery of baby and placenta, crying of baby with mama, the cutting of the cord, the smallness and newness of this little brother. It was a special start to their relationship. 2-year-old Daniel woke about an hour and a half after the birth and came to meet the baby. It was so sweet to share the experience together as a family at home.

Though my bleeding was minimal, Kelly said there was a little trickle that hadn't quite stopped, and that she might have to reach up and feel for any blood clots. Margo gave me an herbal tincture to help and I asked Keenan to fix me another shock tea. I drank it down quickly, the cayenne sizzling my throat. The bleeding stopped almost immediately. That was that.

Eventually I moved into my bedroom to get comfortable and nurse the baby, who latched on with ease, I'm grateful to say. The midwives did a newborn exam and announced his 8 lbs. 13 oz. and 21.5 inches. My labor was 6 hours long. Completely unexpected, but welcome.

James seemed a little unsure about being here at first. He slept for several days, waking only to eat, and keeping his eyes tight shut. We finally started seeing his deep blue eyes as he found ours. He is so sweet and sincere, responsive and easy-going. I have been given a very strong love for him, perhaps to meet his call for security, perhaps as an answer to my own prayers. Keenan and I both feel that he will grow to be a great strength to his family.

One month old


  1. Beautiful, Nonie. It is difficult to desire patience in those last moment of birth. Your feelings of closeness to spiritual attendants on the other side was very moving to me. Thank you so much for sharing this. I love you, mighty warrior sister!

  2. I've been waiting for this! Every birth is so sacred, so unique. Thank you for sharing! I'm crying. :)

    1. p.s. I love the part about the praying mantis! I don't think I had heard that. Nature joins in our birth celebrations, I think. The day after Peter's birth (Feb. 21), we saw buds on the trees outside our house! I thought it couldn't be true, but within a couple weeks they were blossoms. Of course, it was just an early spring (very early), but that day I felt like the birth had brought it on. :)

  3. Oh, what I'd give to have Carrie present for my next birth...

    Thanks for sharing your story. I loved every detail. Congratulations!
    (this is Ben's sister, btw... in case you didn't know.)

  4. What a lovely story. Congratulations on your beautiful birth experience. I'm Ariel's friend, so I hope you don't think I'm stalking you. Just a fan of this blog.

  5. Thank you, Nonie. I learn so much from you.

  6. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. It really was an inspiring home birth. You are really good at listing to your body. Isn't cayenne amazing?

  7. Nice recap of a great day, Nonie! It was an honor to be there. It was calm and gentle and a perfect way to bring little James into the world.
    My favorite line of the night was, "My pusher is broken." We all got a good chuckle over that one.