Hello Judah | A successful VBAC birth story
The problem with writing a birth story is the problem of giving justice to the holiness and perfection of the event itself – the miracle of birth.
Maybe that’s why it took me three months to sit down and put “pen to paper” for this story. Truth be told I’ve worried that my words would in some way diminish the importance of the sacred process. But I will tell you this, I got my all-natural successful VBAC birth just as I had hoped and prayed for… and I couldn’t be more thrilled to share.
This is the story of how I met Judah.
Somewhere around 37 or 38 weeks pregnant I turned the corner called oh-my-gosh-I’m-not-ready-for-two-babies-because-things-just-aren’t-done-around-here, to feeling all at once ready, settled, and at peace.
If you’re just turning that particular corner late in your pregnancy (which I’m told is common with baby number two), you know that once you’ve rounded it the baby will probably soon follow.
I was ready. I was excited. And for most of my pregnancy I’d had an inkling that baby would be a week early.
A day or two after deciding I was “ready” my braxton hicks morphed into regular contractions. It was two weeks until D-day.
And then… game off.
Over the next seven days I had prodromal labor. That’s a fancy way to say that I had false labor… But “false labor” is so not false! (Oh geeze, it’s so flipping real.) The difference is that it just doesn’t progress to full dilation. (I later found out it was because baby was posterior, which can make for not only lots of starts and stops in labor… but can also lead to awful—no excruciating—back pain.)
It made for a difficult week, packed with excitement and anticipation as well as frustration and disappointment…. But mostly pure exhaustion as contractions kept me up all night for several nights and slowed me down all day.
At least three of those nights my contractions were as close as 3-4 minutes apart for hours on end, but they never broke through the three-minute mark.
I was exhausted. My back had begun to ache. I was confused. I was irritated.
With Levi my waters broke at 2:00am the morning of his due date. Contractions started hard and fast after that and later that day (after an unplanned c-section) he was in my arms.
Not so with Judah.
Just as he had me guessing in pregnancy, so he had me completely baffled in labor.
Yet even with the discouragement I was hopeful and felt at peace with the process I knew was still to come.
However it happened, I would meet my son soon.
I rubbed my belly with clary sage. I walked as much as my energy would allow. I packed and repacked my hospital bag. I asked girlfriends and family to pray.
Finally on day seven of this roller coaster when my contractions started up hard again I decided that come hell or high water I would have him that day. It was a Friday and Friday—I decided—is a good day to have a baby. I was 38 weeks, six days.
I put on a necklace that my parents had bought me on their trip to Israel; it has my name, Adriel, written in Hebrew on it. Adriel means “strength and power of God” and I wanted to be reminded of that strength and power as I labored.
After having my shower I announced, “I’m having the baby today” and called a few close friends and made sure the babysitter for Levi was in order.
My desire was to labor as long as possible at home because I knew that once I went into the hospital they’d start watching the clock. And since I wanted to try for an intervention-free VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), I knew that I didn’t want the doctor’s count down to interfere with my labor’s natural progression.
(“labor day” at home – last photo of the bump – 38+6)
At home I walked. I bounced. I pulled out the breast pump. And sure enough those contractions finally broke through the three-minute mark.
Finally, after 14 hours of laboring at home we headed into the hospital.
This was it!
I had been worried about the contractions slowing during our car ride since all day they slowed every time I sat down or stopped moving, but to my delight (relative word here!) they only increased as we made the 20-minute drive to Townsville Hospital.
Yup, this was definitely it.
By the time we arrived I thought I just might have a baby in the lobby.
My contractions were on top of each other – I had six from the time we got out of the car to the time we got to the birthing suites. I only had seconds break in between them – enough to get 20 paces or so before having to stop and rock through another one.
No doubt we were quite the spectacle as onlookers kept asking if I was ok. Just having a baby here folks – leave me alone. I thought to myself.
The short walk to the delivery ward took a million years.
Upon arrival they immediately admitted me to a birthing room. It was 5:00pm.
I was greeted by a sweet midwife and soon after the attending doctor came in. I had met him before during one of my prenatal exams and was immediately set at ease knowing he was on duty. (Dr. Dan, whom I don’t even know a last name for, but had already grown to trust and like through our previous visit.)
Again we went through my birth plan and discussed the areas of contention:
Yes, I wanted to have a VBAC.
No, I didn’t want any interventions.
Yes, I wanted to go medication-free.
No, I didn’t want constant fetal heart monitoring (so that I could be free to labor in the shower and/or the tub).
Yes, I understood the risks.
And on we went.
As soon as the checking-in process was finished we figured out that my fore waters had broken while in the car. Things were clearly progressing.
The midwives left me to labor alone with my team.
I have to mention here that I had the best support team with me: my husband Ryan and two friends JP and Katie who came to take photos, pray for me, support Ryan, and basically just be available to cheer and run and encourage and refill and adjust the volume and crack jokes and wipe sweat and welcome our precious, precious child.
They were amazing. All three of them.
During the next couple of hours I continued to labor. The details are hazy. Things slowed again, which I found increasingly frustrating. I knew that the best thing I could do to keep things moving was to stay on my feet, and yet I was utterly exhausted after a week of sleepless nights and increasing back pain.
By this point my back was throbbing and all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep. And yet I also felt this pressure – this race against the clock – to have Judah quickly so that the medical staff wouldn’t press for all the interventions that I didn’t want.
Somewhere around this point I was assigned a new midwife, Helen.
Helen and I had immediate chemistry. She was straightforward and yet kind and encouraging. At one point she said to me, “You obviously have an extremely high tolerance to pain.” (Yes people, that is what a laboring woman on no medication wants to hear, thank you very much!)
Between contractions she teased me and we bantered back and forth. I felt safe with her, relaxed, secure. I was incredibly glad to have her assist me in bringing Judah into the world. (Let it be noted that I had hoped and prayed often in the months leading up to giving birth for a midwife exactly like her to be assigned to me. She was—quite literally—an answer to prayer.)
Around 8:00pm Helen told me that things would need to start moving a little faster or the doctors would want to talk about interventions to help speed things along.
This made me aggravated – I was already irritated at how drastically things had slowed since those moments in the lobby when I thought I’d deliver then and there. I wondered if I was doing something wrong (or not doing enough) – but mostly my amped up aggravation mostly just made me determined.
I wanted to have this baby naturally. I was going to have this baby naturally.
Come. On. Baby.
Time to come out.
Within minutes the contractions became hard and fast again. Harder and faster. (It begs the question how much of labor is physical and how much is psychological? Incredible how intermixed it all is.)
Whatever the physiology and psychology of it all, Helen’s warning kicked me into high gear and those contractions piled on top of each other again. (She later told me that this was exactly what she was hoping for when she dropped the little “warning” bomb – my clever midwife was helping me to get what I longed for! She must have known how stubborn and determined I can be.)
By this time the contractions were so intense that there’s no way I could talk through them. I needed to give everything just to cope with the stress on my body. I was agonizing with the worst back pain I have ever experienced and I suddenly doubted my ability to continue. “If my back hurts this much during contractions, how in the world will I be able to handle the pain ‘down there’ while pushing?” I cried to my husband.
I knew that women reached this stage – the stage where most doubt they can go on – but (naive or not) I had sincerely thought I wouldn’t feel that way. I had studied and reflected and prayed and visualized the birth so many times that I genuinely thought I’d only have positive-self-talk, even through the hardest part. The fact that I started to doubt myself just made me feel more defeated. And yet I knew I was close. I knew I could do it.
Oh yeah baby, this was transition. And it was as hard as they say it would be.
I waffled from saying things like I can’t do it, to saying, you were made for this Adriel, to what the hell was I thinking, no drugs? to this is all unfolding just as it should be.
I was so conflicted.
I groaned. I grunted. I cried. I breathed. I shouted. I prayed. I even laughed. (Despite the pain, giving birth was the most fun and enjoyable and wonderful experience.)
At one point I went from sobbing and moaning during a contraction to the moment it ceased saying, “You guys are just perfect – the best birth team ever. I love you so much.”
My midwives burst into hysterics (Lucy had joined Helen by this point) and told me that they’d never seen someone who wasn’t drugged flip to being so “lovey dovey” at this stage of labor before. (Apparently they were thoroughly entertained with my antics.)
The whole room was laughing… laughing at me. And as funny as it was to them, I meant it. I was blown away at how perfect it all felt:
Pain was excruciating. Hormones were raging. Heart was exploding. It was all a hot, glorious mess.
As 9:00pm approached the midwives told me they wanted to do an internal exam to determine how far dilated I was. I hadn’t had an internal prior to this since my waters had already broken and—as a VBACer—it would start my intervention clock ticking. Because of that we had very little idea of how far I was dilated during the whole process.
For the next 15+ minutes I tried to lay down, but literally couldn’t move as the contractions were stacked on top of each other, with only seconds in between, and my back pain was almost debilitating.
Tearfully I said that I couldn’t make them stop long enough to hold still in order for the midwives to check my cervix. I remember pleading to God under my breath to make them to stop long enough that I could at least catch my breath. Ryan was rock steady, wiping the hair away from my face, and JP and Katie reminded me of my necklace and what it represented – the strength and power of God which was mine.
They helped me take courage.
Finally, after 15 minutes of trying to re-situate myself and lay down, I was able to get into position for the internal.
Immediately Lucy reported that I was fully dilated and I could start pushing.
How? was the first thing that I thought. How in the world do I push? I wondered as if there was a science to it or a “right” way.
The pressure was mounting and all I felt was that I needed to take a giant poo. Is this seriously what having a baby is meant to feel like? I wondered. (So bizarre.)
Helen’s shift had ended at 9:00pm, but she told me that she wanted to stay for the birth anyway. Since I had so easily connected with her I was incredibly grateful to hear this.
And I was excited.
Hello. I was having a baby.
This was actually happening.
It was time to meet my son… for real.
I found the next part strange.
My contractions immediately spaced out and we talked about what positions I’d like to push in. It felt so matter-of-fact as my emotions leveled out and my entire being suddenly felt calmer.
I knelt on the bed with my arms over the back (which was raised) for support. They got out the mirror—which I had requested so that I could watch as much as possible—and I began to push.
The next little while felt like it went on forever. I pushed and pushed through the devastating back pain, but I felt like nothing was actually happening down there. I had assumed that I would be able to feel as baby moved through the birth canal, but truthfully my back pain overshadowed all else.
Helen suggested I try lying down to push as she could see I was clearly exhausted from 20 hours of labor (not to mention the week of start-stop labor and little sleep leading up to it). I was hesitant because I didn’t want to do anything that would hinder the baby’s movement, but I was also ready to collapse so I reluctantly agreed.
After a few pushes I told her I hated it and so she suggested the side-lying position.
I lay on my side pushing as she supported my upper leg during each heave. Still I felt nothing but back pain, but I continued as she assured me things were progressing nicely.
During each push I gripped onto Ryan’s neck, nearly pulling his hair out as my fists clinched around anything within reach. He was a champion – there for me just as I needed him to be.
After several minutes of pushing on my side I looked down between my legs to watch Helen and try to read her facial expressions. (Was I close? Were things happening? Was this pushing thing working??)
Suddenly I felt it and saw it all at once – my hind waters burst with a gush. She jumped back and just missed the flood that was aimed straight at her face.
We all laughed at her close call and I felt encouraged. Something really was happening down there.
From that point I got back up on my knees and shifted between pushing on my knees to squatting and back again a few times.
Finally his head began to crown.
They showed me in the mirror and I reached down to feel that fuzzy newborn hair.
That’s my boy. I can see and feel my boy.
I squeezed Ryan’s hand. I smiled at JP and Katie. I thanked God.
My heart was racing. We were going to meet my boy soon.
The midwives told me to continue pushing as I had been, but that when I was close to his head coming through they would prompt me to begin little pants. The panting would slow down his movement a bit so that he could come through with less chance of tearing.
Got it, I thought to myself.
By this time there was no messing around. When the urge to push came I was giving it everything I had. Get. This. Baby. Out. Now. was all that I could think about.
And then, during one of my giant (roaring) pushes, POP, his head burst through!
Although the midwives were right there and ready… I think we were all surprised. We went from being able to see a tiny sliver of his head to—hello—the whole thing having burst through. (I so wish it was appropriate to show photos of what this looked like – it really is miraculous and the photos are stunning.)
The next moments were incredible. There was a minute or two between contractions where only his head was delivered. I touched him and held him and marveled at the wonder of it all. I looked in mirror and saw his face. My friends clicked furiously, snapping photos from every angle. My husband looked at me with wide eyes and a full heart.
And I just knelt there, with my baby’s head hanging between my legs – still mine, and yet also the world’s. It was magical… and totally weird all at the same.
I reached down with both hands to hold his head and prepared myself for the next contraction to come so that I could birth his body.
With the next push he was delivered into my arms. I threw my head back in relief, amazement, and thanksgiving… and let our a triumphant cry of joy.
The midwives untangled his cord, which was wrapped around an arm, a leg, and his neck due to his movement from the posterior position he’d begun labor in.
At 10:15pm after 55 minutes of pushing he was on my chest – his little head on my heart.
It was the most incredible culmination of all of the events of this pregnancy and birth… and it still makes my head spin when I think about how awesome that most holy of moments was.
And you know, with all of the build-up wondering if he’d be born with Down Syndrome or not, the first thing that ran through my mind was not, does he or doesn’t he?
The first thing I thought was, he looks nothing like us. And I like that… because he doesn’t look like any of us with his almost-white blonde hair and fair skin.
From the very beginning—he has been so different, so special, so him.
Ryan and I looked at each other and nodded. “Judah?” Ryan asked. “Judah,” I confirmed.
Welcome Judah Matthew Booker.
“His name is Judah Matthew”, I announced to the others.
My little room full of cheerleaders erupted with shouting and dancing and clapping jumping and arm-waving.
He was here. He was perfect. He was so worthy of our cheers.
I caught a glimpse of the banner that Levi and I had made together in the weeks leading up to Judah’s birth: “Welcome sweet baby boy!” and my heart was full, so very, very full.
Welcome indeed sweet, sweet boy.
Soon after he was in my arms they told me that I had lost a lot of blood and they weren’t sure if I was hemorrhaging or just badly torn. They advised that I should have the cintocin shot for a managed third stage labor. I agreed and settled back with my gorgeous son skin-to-skin on my breast as doctors came in and examined me. We were all glad when they confirmed that it was just tearing, not hemorrhaging.
Judah had come out with his hand up near his face (I like to say he came out fist-pumping with excitement, thankyouverymuch), but that meant I had suffered second degree tearing as well as some other grazes and smaller tears, both in my perineum and inside the “back”. (I’m thanking the Good Lord that I didn’t tear all the way through like a friend of mine had just two months before.)
Several minutes later Ryan cut the cord (after it had ceased pulsating) as Judah and I continued to rest.
The photos of this period show me smiling and laughing oblivious to the fact that the rest of me looked like a blood bath. I was just happy to be holding my son.
Judah. I’ve been waiting for you.
As elated as I was, my back pain had not lessened. It still throbbed but now as a constant, no longer in waves with the contractions. The steady pain eclipsed any pain or discomfort that I “should” have felt where I’d torn. When they offered me pain relief for my back I asked for the highest dose possible, which did little but take the edge off and make me drowsy.
Over the next little while I rested with Judah in my arms as the adrenaline quickly gave way to sheer and absolute exhaustion. I felt completely physically and emotionally spent.
Judah nursed easily and Ryan and the girls took turns meeting him face-to-face in their own arms. These were precious early moments that I will always remember.
I thanked the midwives over and over and told them how pleased I was with their help and care. Lucy later told us that it was one of the most enjoyable births she had been a part of in a long time – a redeeming experience for her of sorts.
All around hearts were filled to overflowing.
Our room was saturated with thanksgiving and gratitude and excitement as the buzz of the absolute miracle of birth and Judah’s seemingly perfect health sunk in.
No Down Syndrome. No apparent abnormalities. No obvious complications. Just a perfect baby boy – 19.5 inches and 7.5 pounds of a perfect, adorable, blue-eyed baby boy.
Judah has a two-fold meaning: to call on the name of Yahweh and to confess, praise, or give thanks to God. Matthew means gift of God, which he is and has been since the moment we learned of his existence. We feel both his names are so fitting.
His birth will forever be imprinted in my mind and heart as one of the best moments of my life. I discovered a strength and power within I’d not yet known… but more importantly, my boy was safely in my grip –in our grip—just as God intended.
Every birth is different. Every life tells a story. Every single one is just as miraculous.
But for my own birth experiences—both Judah’s and Levi’s—I’m so grateful. Despite the pain, despite the difficulty, despite the expected and unexpected, despite the long days and hours laboring, I’m so glad to have joined the countless millions of women who have gone before me and now bear the title Mother.
I am a mother.
I was made for this.
Even now—three months later—when I think back to that night, it’s as fresh in my mind as our first stunning moments together.
And as Judah rests in the room next to me, sighing in his sleep with Ryan not far from him, I remember, I marvel, and I rejoice at the incredible gift of a life birthed… a life given to the world.
God, indeed, is very, very good.
Dear friends, maybe you are anticipating birth for the first time. Or maybe you’re like I was – hoping for a successful VBAC or a natural childbirth. Or maybe you’re a seasoned mom finished with having babies. Whatever the case, I hope my story will inspire you that birth is beautiful and women are created for it.