gabriel james: a birth story
note: this account of the day of our son’s birth is really thorough and pretty long. it may not be everyone’s cup of tea to read. but during both of my pregnancies, i really appreciated reading detailed and raw birth stories. and as someone who is very passionate about the fantastic wonder and beauty of childbirth, i just felt like i couldn’t leave too many bits out! :) my experiences giving birth are the most amazing and treasured experiences of my life and i have felt compelled to document them and share them. if you’re not super jazzed about the topic of childbirth, just skip this post and know that some really cute baby pictures are coming next, soon! :)
because of the dim lighting in our flat when baby was born, a lot of these photos are grainy/out of focus … but i kind of like how that evokes the blur of intensity and wonder that surrounded us during this sacred event.
waiting for my second baby to be born felt pretty grueling. i really thought he would be born ahead of his due date, and i even managed to convince my mom to move her flight up a few days to make sure she didn’t miss the birth. after months of feeling really great and quite uninhibited by my growing belly, my pregnancy turned very uncomfortable around thirty eight weeks. my body ached, sleeping was difficult, near-constant waves of braxton hicks contractions were quite intense, and chasing moses around felt like it took such gargantuan effort. by mid-april i was good and ready to birth that baby. i tried to cherish my last days being pregnant, and with little mo as my only child … and my mom kept reminding me that the baby was easier in that out. but every night as i went to sleep i really hoped that the next day would be a birth day. and every morning i woke up a little bit convinced that the sensations i was feeling were the onset of labor … and then i realized i just needed to use the toilet :)
as the days ticked on and amidst gorgeous spring weather, moses and i took my mom to our favourite parks around london, and ian worked hard in preparation for taking some paternity time. i started trying every natural induction method i could find on google, just because it was kind of fun, and i might as well! i enjoyed some toddler-free time (moses had a blast with grammie) and practiced patience and reviewed my notes about birth and tried to connect more with the tiny human inside of me. and as the birth of our son drew inevitably closer, i recognized some tender messages from god in quiet corners. i felt, as i prayed, power and peace.
the evening before my due date, since it was friday and incredibly warm and sunny outside, ian left work a bit early and met my mom, moses and i in hyde park. the balmy, blossom-scented air was buzzing with that peculiar joy that comes from the first bonafide spring day after a long winter, and the park was packed. moses and ian played in the princess diana fountain and mom and i sat on the grass and talked. it was one of those perfect equilibrium evenings, and even though i really wanted my baby out asap, i just let my pretty and happy surroundings allow me to chill a little. that night, ian and i said our usual “please bless that the baby will come at the right time” prayer, and then i said an extra little prayer as i was falling asleep. just as i had the night before moses was born, i offered up a hope to heaven that our baby boy would be born the next day - a little timid but optimistic p.s.
i woke up at 6am and, used to my drill, went to the bathroom. when i noticed a bloody show, i had a moment of sheer, sheer excitement. moses’s birth started exactly this way - on a saturday morning with a bloody show. i laid in bed, with ian snoozing next to me and the soft light of a new day sneaking in the edges of our curtains, feeling a little crampy and waiting for some pattern of sensation. i didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but after a few minutes, the pattern came - mild but sure. i started timing contractions on an app on my phone, and after five or so that felt pretty dang legit, i nudged ian awake. “i think it’s baby time,” i said. he responded excitedly, “seriously?!” he cuddled me in the bed for a little bit, and then went into the living room to start setting things up (blowing up the pool, rolling up the rug, covering the sofas, etc.). in no time i heard my mom scurrying around in the kitchen, making us an egg breakfast … and i could feel her thrill through the walls. i called our midwife and texted our friends that had offered to take care of moses and then got up and got some things organized. i was having really mild thirty second long contractions every 5-7 minutes.
my mom made a run to the grocery store, worried that she’d miss some action since we have such strong family history of quick labors, and ian and i played with moses together. it was a really, really sweet half an hour with our firstborn son. mo was delighted to have both of our undivided attention, and we were both so full-up with love for him. i consciously chose to really savor that precious time, as the morning light streamed in our big bay window and our little boy squealed with delight. our friend came to pick moses up, and after saying hi to her i had to excuse myself to the other room to work through a quick contraction. i watched from the window as she strolled off with our boy, knowing things would be so different when he returned home. then, ian gave me a priesthood blessing and the spirit of god palpably filled our little home. from that moment on - i realize this now as i look back - i didn’t worry at all about complications, or transferring to hospital, or perineal tearing (all things i had worried about a lot over the previous months). i was ready to do the birthing work required to bring a new soul into the world, and i felt quiet confidence that all would go smoothly.
our wonderful, beloved midwife sarah arrived around 10:30am. my contractions were still very mild (i could walk and talk through them). sarah checked in on the baby’s position and heart rate, chatted with us for a while, put some clary sage essential oil in the now-filled birthing pool, and encouraged me to relax. ian and i went out for a walk, and our neighborhood was gloriously springy. i took some pictures of some flowers in our garden - some still totally closed in buds, some starting to bloom, some completely open in resplendence. i tried to blaze those images of opening in my mind, and visualized the same happening with my cervix. we laid in the bed together for a while, timing contractions, hoping for some acceleration, and instead, deceleration happened and i went twenty minutes without a contraction. we took sarah up on her offer to do an internal examination and a membrane sweep, and contractions kicked back in as the four of us ate a delicious lunch (prepared by my angel mom) at the table in the bay window. but they were still mild and spaced out, so sarah went home and told us to call her when it felt like things were changing.
i got in the pool for a while, and then laid in the bed for a while, and then moved around for a while - and then eventually realized that i had become a bit obsessed with timing the contractions. i was really in my head - anxiously trying to make things happen any way i could. i knew i needed to just let go. i wanted things to take off so badly, and i had expected them to in a similar way that they had when moses was born and in my mom and sisters’ deliveries. we called my sister saydi, who had attended the birth of our sister-in-law’s baby just a few days prior and was ironically on a break at a training at her local hospital to become a volunteer doula. saydi suggested we do some exercises from the spinning babies website, and so we did. we were in touch via text with sarah all throughout the day, and she suggested i stop timing contractions completely and “let my body do its thing.” she thought things would pick up around the time it got dark. i continued to practice patience and tried to just surrender.
by 5pm, contractions became more intense and longer. while my mom was making dinner, ian and i decided to go out for another walk - walking brisker this time. we wandered around our pretty neighborhood, stopping every once in a while for a strong contraction and admiring the beauty of the evening. after a while, i felt the distinct impression to head for home, and as we approached our door, i felt the distinct impression to tell sarah to come back. i went to the bathroom, noticed more bloody show, and we sat down for dinner. within minutes i knew in my bones that something had changed. it was 7:45pm and ian told sarah to come right away as i leaned over the table suddenly very unable to do anything but go inside myself during a contraction. sarah arrived, saw me leaning over the table, immediately knew it was game time and called our secondary midwife, natalie. sarah did an internal examination - i was dilated to a 5 and completely effaced. at 8:35pm, i got in the pool. at this point, time became fragmented and i felt like i went somehow to another plane of existence - inside of the intensity within myself, with my so very trusted and loved team surrounding me.
over the next two and a half hours, i labored. i let the waves of contractions wash over me and tried to listen to my body and connect with my baby. i thought a bit about those opening flowers in the garden, about the wonder of what i was doing, about love and angels and letting go. but mostly i just labored. my mind was at once laser focused and totally hazy - i was completely consumed by the physical, mental and spiritual sensations of childbirth. the lights were dim and my music played and heaven hung above us. i wanted to stay in the tub (which kid of surprised me; i had thought i would crave more movement around the flat) and i felt i absolutely needed ian right by me, holding my hands, all the time. i continually reminded him to remind me that “it’s not pain, it’s power,” and that this intensity is what i’d been wanting my whole life and especially throughout the entire day of mild contractions. he watched and responded and encouraged, and was my perfect labor coach. my mom tenderly held a fan up to my face to keep me cool, and would softly rub my arms and shoulders when i felt like i needed a little extra support. every fifteen minutes, sarah put the doppler in the water on my belly and it was the sweetest music to my ears each time she said, “perfect heart rate - he’s a happy baby.” (during moses’s birth, it was concerns about fetal heart rate that led to interventions and complications.)
everything continued to gradually escalate. i would describe it all as more intensity than pain. during moses’s birth i was so distracted by everything that was happening around me; this time i was just submerged in the intensity, and it was wild and extreme - more than i could have ever imagined. but i knew, deep in my bones, that it was divine and productive and good. i rode the contractions until eventually, it all just felt long. i started asking the midwives if i would just at some point want to push, and then began wondering out loud how much longer it would take. and then, i started saying, “i just want it to be over.” contractions were so, so much better when i just leaned into them and let them wash over me, rather than giving in to the natural instinct to fight them - but it got increasingly hard to do this. when sarah noticed my increasing distress, she came and knelt by the side of the pool and said encouraging things to me as i held onto ian (who had been sitting on a ball by the side of the tub the entire time). i loved the honeyed sound of her voice. she told me, “you are doing so, so well. you are actually making it look easy! [that seemed like a total lie to me in the moment - ha!] you are a birthing goddess.” this made me feel powerful. i felt inspired to vocalize - to talk about everything i was feeling, to say affirmations out loud, to let out any noise i felt would be helpful.
it got harder and harder. i thought about the baby, about his experience in all of his, and tried to do it with him. “come on, baby!” i said. i just wanted to know how much longer it would take until i could at last deliver him into the world. i wanted someone to tell me - “ten more minutes!” but sarah just said “i think we’ll have a baby before midnight,” which felt like an eternity away. my mom had earlier (around 9pm) joked with me that i should hold out until midnight so the baby would be born on her birthday which was the next day, and we chuckled assuming it would be significantly earlier than that — but by 10:30pm there was still no baby. at one point when i whispered to Ian, “i just want it to be over,” he leaned into my face and said, with rock solid conviction and lots of love in his voice, “it will be soon.” he told me that he had silently given me a priesthood blessing and felt that distinct impression. that filled me again with power.
i really wanted my waters to break because i knew that would escalate things quickly toward the second stage of labor and towards delivery. i had been kneeling in the tub, with my arms draped over the side, and sarah suggested that i change positions. i switched to sitting, and felt an urge to pee. sarah suggested we go to the toilet, which sounded like torture to me (i did not want to get out of that calming warm water!) but i somehow totally knew that was the thing to do right then. i waddled to our tiny little toilet room, sat down and all of a sudden there was a pop and a gush of fluid rushing out of me. it alarmed me and i yelped! natalie said, “don’t worry! that’s your waters.” and i knew it was really game time now. sarah said, “let’s get you back in the tub and have a baby,” and i was like “okay!!!"
i was helped back to the tub and waited for an urge to push. it was 10:50pm. after a few contractions, everything distinctly changed inside me, and i knew baby was on his way out. contractions were shorter, closer together, insanely intense, and more about pressure than a squeeze. my instinct to push felt different than i expected it to - and i didn’t ever actually push. i just breathed and bore down, and my body miraculously eased the baby out. i realized that the real intensity lasted only about ten seconds during each contraction now, so i asked ian to count to ten with me as each one came. and at this point i got really bossy. “count with me. stop counting. count softer. there are too many people talking. ian, i need to hear your voice. ian, be quiet. breathe with me. tell me what’s happening.” etc. etc. (we have laughed about this many times since the birth!) i felt at some points that i was screaming, but i was told afterwards that i never did actually scream - just groaned and not very loudly. getting the baby out felt impossible in that moment - it felt like he had to pass through something entirely impervious. there was stinging and pressure, and i was told to blow and pant as i breathed. i felt like my amazing body was just totally taking over - i wasn’t pushing, but my uterus definitely was! i was kneeling in the pool, clutching onto ian, and both the midwives were behind me keeping a close eye on things (i later learned they were shining a headlamp into the water!) so they could take any needed action to protect me from tearing. water splashed up into my face as i bowed my head and did my best to breathe (at times, that felt impossible, and ian had to quite forcefully remind me to inhale). when I asked, “is his head out?!” i heard natalie’s voice break through the intensity and say, “up to his eyebrows!” and i was so happy to be so close.
in an instant, amidst all the extreme work and total intensity, i experienced a quick glimmer of beautiful realization of what was happening. i exclaimed, “i’m having a baby!!!” this fondest dream of mine and this incredible miracle was happening. life created inside me was coming through me. “i’m having a baby!!” i said again, wonderstruck and deliriously happy.
i reached my hand down, and felt the baby’s head, his oily hair waving in the water. and before I knew it, there was my son, coming up through the water to me. he was born at 11:05pm. i was so taken back and kind of paralyzed in that moment. i heard sarah say, “okay, we’ve got to get him out and up,” and i had to maneuver my body a bit to sit down from my knees and get the umbilical cord around my leg as she brought him to my chest. i was really dazed - just flooded with emotions that felt unprocessable. baby didn’t breathe or cry for a few seconds, and sarah rubbed his back and tickled his feet trying to get him to respond. those 45 seconds or so were a little bit scary, but a perfect tiny gasp of air and then and a little wail was followed by some hearty crying. i just hugged that teeny body to my heart with fervor. ian was behind me, also bewildered with amazement, and i caught a glimpse of my mom wiping a tear. baby was here, and our world was new.
^^ this photo is really unflattering, ha! but it captures a bit of my bewilderment and the moment when ian leaned into my ear and joyfully said to me, “you did it!” ^^
to be frank, for the next twenty or so minutes, i felt pretty stunned and kind of disoriented. i was flooded with all kinds of sensations that i felt i couldn’t really process. i also continued to feel intensity and discomfort inside my body as the placenta pressed down and the contractions continued (although much less strongly). I had expected to feel more relief and euphoria in those first post-birth moments - i felt both of those for sure, but i was just kind of overwhelmed by what had happened and what was still happening. the midwives and my mom told us that baby had been born with his hand curled up on his cheek and we all exulted together. ian and i looked over our new little son - his full head of hair, his broad nose, his perfect little ears and fingers and toes. we both held the cord around our hands and felt it pulsing, which was so cool. looking back, it felt like there was this thick cocoon of wonder around our living room - a haze of love and joy and amazement. sarah clamped the cord and ian cut it, as the baby continued to lay on my chest. then, i handed him to his daddy for some skin-to-skin while i delivered the placenta. (i love ian so much … within seconds of the birth he had taken off his shirt and was ready to have some skin-to-skin time with his tiny son whenever that made sense.) i stood up in the pool, bore down during a contraction and the placenta - an incredible human organ that my body had created to sustain a new life - came out.
i was helped out of the pool and onto the couch, where sarah checked me for any tearing. when she said, “no tearing at all, not even a skid mark, amazing!” i raised my arms in the air in triumph. ian and i had prayed for months that i would be able to maintain an intact perineum (i had a lot of stitches when moses was born…), and our prayers were answered, and we were so very happy and grateful. i believe that my unexpectedly long labor was what my body needed to stretch and ripen and provide this result.
sarah and my mom tenderly helped ian and i into our bedroom with the baby. they turned down the covers, asked if they could bring us anything, and then left the three of us alone, reveling and bonding at midnight. the baby latched right onto the breast for his first feed, and ian and i talked about the awesome event that just happened in our home. we said a mighty prayer of gratitude. we heard a clap of thunder and then the pattering of rain outside the window and commented that the heavens must be mad about having to send this angel away to earth :) it felt so amazing to be in our own bed, and we had a sweet hour of time to soak up our brand new baby boy. i felt so so freaking tired, but otherwise remarkably good physically. my belly felt curiously empty and my heart felt curiously full.
we brought the baby back out to the living room and he got some cuddles from his grammie while we inspected the cord and placenta with sarah. she explained all the different parts and functions to us and we were both riveted. (i’ll spare you the picture i took of the placenta and cord … but may have to post it later — that stuff is so amazingly cool!) we weighed the baby - 3.76 kg / 8 lbs 4.5 oz. i couldn’t believe he was almost a pound and a half bigger than moses was at birth! we took some pictures and kind of just celebrated as a little birthing team. around 2:30am, we hugged our midwives and bid them farewell, said goodnight to my mom, and snuggled into our bed with tiny son by the side in his moses basket.
^^ our amazing midwives. they will always be a part of our hearts and our family. ^^
as i fell asleep, i felt so powerful. i did something that felt at times tremendously impossible. with the help of loved ones and especially of god, i ushered in a miracle. i birthed a baby! my heart burst with gratitude, and with adoration and appreciation for my husband. and as i listened to the soft breathing of my tiny son, i felt the incredible and seemingly absurd reality of loving another human like i love my firstborn.
everything had become new.