Norah Jewell's birth story.

My baby has just turned one, and I'm finally finding the words to capture the story of her birth that healed me in many ways.  In short, Norah's birth was by far the most challenging, physically grueling thing I've ever done.  It's also the time I've probably been proudest of myself and most surprised by my own strength.  No matter what else I do in life, I know I did this: I conquered something that pushed me to the absolute end of my limits, and a beautiful baby girl was waiting for me on the other side.

For my entire pregnancy with Norah, I had prepared myself for a VBAC, and towards the end of my pregnancy, I decided on a homebirth.  I chose Kathleen Mayorga of Bella Births as my midwife and my wonderful chiropractor, Autumn Gore of Café of Life, as my doula (all the reasons are in this post).

Here's how it all unfolded...

Counting the days

According to one ultrasound, my due date was January 10th and according to another, January 16th.  So by January 20th, I was getting accustomed to constantly fielding voicemails and texts asking, “Where's that baby!?” which led to a few hormonal breakdowns and eventually surrendering my phone to my husband. If I was going to let my body start labor naturally (especially important for a VBAC), I was determined to stay inside my bubble of peace and be unaffected by pressure from others (even though I knew they meant well!).

These long weeks and days leading up to my due date ended up being so much fun, just the three of us: me, Steven, and our firstborn, Luci Belle.  We'd been like three musketeers for 3.5 years, and we soaked up every last bit of that season as we simultaneously waited for the baby and satiated my constant cravings for fro-yo.  We tried practically every fro-yo place in the city of Dallas, I tell you.   I found that I was perfectly happy not venturing away from my favorite: plain tart with slivered almonds.  And that Yogurtland next to Barnes and Noble on Northwest Highway has the best tart in town.

Checking on baby

On Monday morning, January 20th, my fro-yo belly and I went in to the birth center for a “non stress test” where they hooked me up to a monitor for 15 minutes while I skimmed books on how to have a peaceful childbirth.  The monitor printed out all kinds of graphs that showed how the baby’s heartbeat was responding.  When Kathleen came in to read my results at the end of the test, she said everything looked perfect, and the results also showed that my placenta looked very healthy.  Great news.  We could keep waiting. 

At that point, we decided to go with my later due date (from the earliest ultrasound, which is supposedly the most accurate anyway) of January 16th. So I was only a few days “past due” at this point.  I felt a lot better.

After the appointment, Steven and I had lunch under the cool sun in downtown McKinney at one of our favorite little spots, Patina Green.  I had one of the most delicious sandwiches of my life (spaghetti squash, pesto, and goat cheese on sourdough), and we talked about how much our lives were about to be turned upside down in all the difficult and wonderful ways.  This ended up being our last date together before baby girl was born.

I'm pretty sure this night is also when I took a single Black Cohosh pill to try to get things moving.  Turns out that helped...

It begins!

On Tuesday morning, January 21st, I awoke at 7am, and from that point on, I started having regular contractions 6 minutes apart the entire day.  I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions (just tightening) regularly for the latter part of my pregnancy, but at totally random times.  I could tell these were different because they were regular and more than just pressure, but I could still go through my day and basically try to ignore them. 

By evening, I texted my midwife, Kathleen, and my doula, Autumn, to give them the heads-up.  I wasn’t sure if it was real "pre-labor" or what.  They had been totally regular the entire day but I knew the rule was to “ignore them until you no longer can.”  Both Autumn and Kathleen told me to drink a glass of wine, take a Benadryl and a bath to help me sleep, and try to get some rest.  I did the first three, but I didn’t sleep much that night – they weren’t really very painful, but it’s pretty difficult to sleep through a contraction.   At midnight, I went to the bathroom and saw that I had lost my mucous plug.   Oh my goodness, things were starting to happen!  At 2:45am I texted Autumn and said, “The contractions are much stronger now and closer together – definitely can’t walk or talk through them. I’m laying down and sleeping as much as I can between them.” 

Active labor

On Wednesday morning, January 22nd, which was also my Dad's birthday, I went to Autumn to get adjusted.  At this point I was really tired from not sleeping much, and the contractions were more powerful.  I had to stop and breathe through some of them, even when I was on the adjusting table.  After the chiro visit, Steven and I went to Whole Foods to stock up on food so we would have some for the imminent birth.  I waddled around Whole Foods, stopping during contractions and holding onto a shelf in the body care aisle while the customers looked at me strangely.  I called my midwife while at Whole Foods, and she wanted me to go up to the birth center in McKinney to be checked.  When we got up there, she watched me have a contraction and agreed they were getting more real, and when she checked me I was at 2cm and totally softened and effaced.  She shoved about 5 or 6 evening primrose oil (EPO) capsules internally and said, “My goal is for you to be holding your baby by 10pm tonight.”  It was so surreal hearing those words!   I think this exact moment was when it hit me that I was going to do a natural birth.  This was actually happening, and soon.

From there, things progressed pretty quickly.  The EPO kicked things into gear.  When I got home, all I wanted was to take a long, hot shower.  I got on my hands and knees in the shower while Steven sat on the toilet seat quietly timing contractions when I told him to start and stop.  Yup, they were getting closer.  The hot water beating down on me felt like absolute heaven.  I tried to get into a place of total peace and trust, preparing for what the rest of the day (and maybe night) would hold.  

I think it was around 2pm when I said to Steven, “OK, I need you to call Autumn {the doula} now.”  I had been laying in bed in the fetal position trying to manage the contractions, which was the worst position ever.  I was starting to need help.  That’s what my doula was for!  

Luci Belle was about to wake up from her nap, so he also told my mom that when she woke up, they needed to grab their bags and head out right away.  They were going to stay a few blocks away at my friend Ellie’s who had a furnished backhouse.  I felt a little sad that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Luci Belle, but I think it was for the best so we didn't make a big deal about her leaving for the night.  It would be the first night she would ever spend away from our house.

Autumn came shortly after, and when she entered the house, I was having a contraction in my bedroom while holding onto the side of my dresser.  She came straight back to the bedroom, rolled up her sleeves, and took her position behind me, supporting my hips through the next contraction.  She quickly demonstrated how I could breathe most effectively through the contractions – deep breath in, then long powerful breath out, like blowing out a candle across the room.  “Blow the contraction away...” she said.  Her presence from there on out was absolutely angelic.  And this is the exact reason why people have a doula: they know exactly how to help you keep moving and trying different positions to help you keep dilating and progressing. The midwife usually doesn’t come until you’re deep into active labor, but for all the time before that, the doula is there for you, coaching you and encouraging you and helping you be as comfortable as possible.  Whenever I passed the mirror in my bedroom, I saw the words "THIS IS MY HEALING BIRTH" that I'd written on it in dry erase marker - this was my favorite phrase from my Hypnobabies VBAC CD that I'd listened to during my pregnancy.  I drank those words in and received them as if they were the truth.

I could feel myself going into active labor, because I was beginning to turn off the rest of the world and retreat deep within myself.   Meanwhile, Steven went into turbo busy mode around the house, getting snacks ready, tidying up, lighting candles, putting on my “peaceful labor” playlist and transforming our home into a den of peace and calmness.   I felt so thankful I was at home with just Autumn and my husband there.  Autumn had me in all different positions: on the birth ball with her holding a heating pad on my back, standing up in a doorway, on all fours on the bed, sitting on the toilet, walking up and down the hall, you name it...I labored all over our house.  Just when I got “comfortable” in that position, it was time to change. In between it all, she applied doTerra Clary Sage essential oil to my ankles to help progress the dilation, and it was also a very calming scent.  Every 10 minutes or so, she also squirted some “Start Up” into my mouth.  And let me tell you, the combo of those things really kept me moving along and kept the contractions coming strong.  One of the other beautiful things about being out of the hospital is that I was able to eat and drink to keep up my energy. I got to have power snacks that my husband lovingly prepared whenever I needed it, like crackers with peanut butter and banana.  I sipped Crazy Water and coconut water. 

The whole time, Autumn was keeping Kathleen posted on my progress.  In between the contractions, I could mostly continue carrying on conversations as usual – Autumn and I even had a few laughs.  During contractions though, I was totally in the zone - super serious and emotional.  Every time the song “Nothing to Say” by Andrew Peterson came on my labor playlist, I started crying.  One time I was pacing around our huge dining room table and made my way over to Steven and buried my head in his chest and wept.  I didn’t feel sad, just emotional...such a long pregnancy it had been with a lot of suffering but also so much joy, and now it was all coming to the pinnacle.  We would meet our baby soon.   And so far, my labor was just as I’d wanted it to be.   Steven was there for me whenever I needed him, but most of the time it was me and Autumn, and he was in the wings quietly observing and preparing.

By 7pm, Kathleen arrived and started taking my vitals and charting. When Kathleen checked me at this point, I was at 7cm!  I was so relieved…because I was now past the point I had gotten stuck in my last labor – at 5cm.  My body was doing it!  Kathleen was so proud and told me and Autumn that we had done great work together.  Autumn had coached me from 2cm to 7cm that afternoon.  Now we were approaching the last stage of active labor...

Transition

Around this time, Autumn’s husband Tom (also a chiropractor) arrived, and we joked that he was the “doulo” coming to coach the husband.  Tom and Steven got busy filling the birth tub that was set up in our livingroom - they had drained our entire hot water heater and the tub was only filled halfway, so they got busy in the kitchen heating up huge pots of water.  I finally got in the birth tub and it was pretty hot.  It felt great on my contractions and to be able to float, but after about 15 minutes, I felt overheated.  Autumn gently pulled my hair back and placed icy cold washcloths on my forehead and neck.  I said I needed to get out for a little while to cool off.  In the meantime, Steven and Tom looked for ice to cool off the water a bit and couldn’t find anything except frozen chicken, so they wrapped it in a bunch of bags and threw it in the tub! 

Even though I’d said I wanted to give birth in the tub if possible, Autumn later told me that she knew once I got out that I wasn’t going to be getting back in. So the poor birth tub filled with bags of frozen chicken stood abandoned in our living room. 

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Another midwife, Lisa Black, who was going to be assisting at the birth, arrived as I was getting out of the tub.  Nothin' like meeting someone new while standing on a plastic tarp in the middle of your livingroom, bra-less, wearing a soaked tank top and a towel halfway wrapped around your bottom half.  You just lose all modesty when pregnant, and especially in labor, you just don’t care anymore who is looking or what you look like.

I remember being kind of scared of transition (7cm-10cm) from what others had told me, but it wasn’t really that much different than the previous stage of labor except the contractions were a bit closer together and more intense.  But thanks to my birth team, I just kept breathing through them and changing positions.  For some reason, standing in the bathroom doorway and bracing myself with my hands was where I was for a lot of this time. 

At one point, midwife Lisa asked me how the contractions were feeling, and I answered and said something about how intense they were.  I remember she replied, “Well, you’re making it look easy,” although I didn’t feel that at all.  I was just totally in the zone.

At another point, Kathleen was getting concerned that the baby was starting to look a little posterior, meaning she was starting to turn a little facing outward rather than facing inward.  This was the position Luci Belle had been in, which had caused so many problems with progressing.  So I got on my hands and knees on the bed, and Kathleen got under me and literally pushed the baby back into position. OUCH!  But I was relieved that she got her back in the right place so things could keep progressing.

Getting close to 10cm, and my water still hadn’t broken!  How different from my first labor when my water broke prematurely before labor had even started.  Kathleen was beginning to think that the water bag was going to stay intact until the baby came out – "Ooooh, I love seeing a baby being born in the sac!" she said.  I love Kathleen so much but wanted to slap her in this moment - ha!  All I could think is, "GET THAT WATER BROKEN NOW" and how much pressure would be relieved.  Oh, I needed just a tiny bit of relief.  I was starting to feel tons of pressure like I wanted to push but wasn’t quite there yet.  So, we went into my bedroom, and I got in a squatting position next to my bed while Autumn braced me from behind.  Kathleen said this position often helps the water to break if it hasn’t yet.  Sure enough, a minute or so later, it gushed out all over the floor next to my bed.  And what relief!

I glanced at a clock and noticed it was 11pm.  I thought I still had time to have our baby girl on my dad’s birthday. 

One little hangup...

So, at 9.5cm, we had a little hangup.  I got stuck with what’s called an "anterior lip" – meaning we were waiting for the last little "lip" of the cervix to fully dilate.  However, I had such an uncontrollable urge to push, it was unlike any feeling I’d ever experienced. It was like every muscle and nerve and feeling in my body wanted to push the baby out.  The only concern though is that it can cause your cervix to swell if you push through an anterior lip, and being a VBAC already, Kathleen wanted to be extra careful.  So she said, “You’re just not quite there yet, we just have to wait a little longer.  All you need is more time.”  It’s not what I wanted to hear at all, but I tried not to be discouraged.  I just wanted this all to be over and to be cuddled in bed with my husband and new baby, free to finally rest.  But I had to keep going.

So the birth team left me and Steven in our bedroom alone in the dim candle and lamp light, to work through the last half centimeter.  It was an intimate time for us, and my husband held me at my absolutely most vulnerable.  The feelings that went through my body during this time were the most uncontrollable, intense, guttural sensations I’d ever felt in my life.  At the peak of every contraction, I let out this sound like the air had been punched out of me and my whole body started to push completely beyond my control.  The pain was so intense that I could barely breathe through them.  I remember thinking it was actually worse than the contractions I’d had in the hospital last time when on Pitocin.  And I didn’t know that was possible.  

To get through it, I just remember thinking, I can do this.  I have to do this.  I had decided on the front end that I would never say the words in labor, "I can’t do this anymore," because I knew that if I did, it would be all over.  I just kept reminding myself, Soon, soon, soon, you’ll be holding your baby.  You are the only one who can birth this baby.

About 30 minutes later, Kathleen came to check me again and I was there!  10cm!  I can’t believe I made it.  And I thought I was over the most difficult part.  Oh boy.

Pushing

So, next they taught me how to push.  I never pictured myself being on my back in bed, because I’d always heard it was so hard to push that way even though that's usually how they make you do it in the hospital.  But for me, it was the best position to feel the control I needed to push effectively.   So with Autumn on my left side, and my husband on my right side, I pulled my knees up to my ears and at the peak of each contraction blew out all my air quickly, inhaled again and then held my breath while I pushed with all my might.  

Kathleen reminded me that we wanted to birth the baby slowly and steadily, no need to rush.  Little did I know the pushing stage would be 1.5 hours of hands-down the most difficult physical, mental and emotional work I’ve ever done in my life.  It really is amazing what our bodies can handle - so many times I thought my body was going to break, or I was going to push my organs right out.  But Autumn kept telling me, "Don't worry, you're not going to break.  You're not going to break."

Kathleen sent someone to the kitchen for our olive oil dispenser bottle, and I remember seeing her at the foot of the bed, pouring olive oil on my perineum to help things stretch slowly (now all I can think of is that hysterical scene in the movie Baby Mama - "I need some olive oil for my taint!")  Let's just say I'll never look at our olive oil bottle the same way again.  Ahh, homebirth.  

But the encouragement from my birth team was amazing.  Steven gave me sips of coconut water for energy, kept cool washcloths on my head, and was plastered to my side.  After one particularly hard push, Kathleen looked me in the eyes and said, "You have tremendous strength." - a piece of encouragement I will carry for the rest of my life.  Everyone except Tom was crowded around me and peering over me as I pushed.  In between a push, I asked Autumn where Tom was and she said, "He's standing outside your bedroom doorway, praying."   Every so often he would say something encouraging through the doorway, like "We believe in you!"  It was the sweetest.  After every push, the midwives would say, "Great!  You're almost there!"  I was "almost there" for 1.5 HOURS, and then, I was truly almost there...

She's here!

Kathleen could see Norah's head about to crown but we weren't there yet.  There was excitement in her voice - "Reach down!  You can feel her head!"  I did, and there it was!  So amazing. Right there, a few inches away, was the full head of hair of my baby girl.  Finally, I'd absolutely HAD IT and could not take another minute.  I did ONE LAST PUSH with every ounce of strength left in my tired body, and at 12:47am on January 23rd, Norah Jewell Bailey came shooting out so fast that both  midwives lunged forward to catch her!  "WHOA!  Not too fast, not too fast!" they exclaimed, and this is when I tore.  But SHE WAS HERE!   Our teeny tiny little girl, so much smaller than I thought she'd be, a head full of wavy black hair, and one little quiet cry.    Through my hoarse voice, I kept saying,  "I DID IT!  I can't believe I did it!" while people kissed my face.  Autumn, Tom, and Steven were high-fiving.  The feeling in the room was that of total celebration.  I've never felt such relief.  All the moments begging God to help me while I was throwing up in the bathroom, all the uncomfortable nights, all the beautiful moments feeling her shift from left to right in my belly.  This was her. 

She seemed to wait patiently while they suctioned her and then immediately placed her on my chest.  I was absolutely in awe as I stared at my second daughter.

Kathleen showed me my placenta, the very thing that kept my baby alive for these 10 months (I'll spare you the photo of that - ha!)  And they weighed her with this cute little pulley - 7 lbs 8 oz.

The hardest part was over, but I still had some pain.  It was a thousand times better than a c-section, but my knees felt like they were permanently bent up to my ears, and my chest and stomach were sore for days from the deep breathing and straining, like I had done a thousand sit-ups.  I had to have stitches for my first degree tear. My face was covered in popped blood vessels. 

While we held our girl, midwife Kathleen looked on while midwife Lisa snapped this photo looking into the mirror of our bedroom to commemorate the moment and the phrase that helped me so: "THIS IS MY HEALING BIRTH." 

This birth healed me, indeed.  I will never again doubt my own strength, physical or otherwise.  I will never again take my body for granted. I will be ever thankful to the Lord for giving me such an amazing gift to have experienced this.

Autumn and Tom finally went home to rest, and the midwives stayed for a few hours to monitor me and Norah, do their charting, clean up, and make sure we were all comfortable.  They prepared a wonderfully warm, soothing herbal bath for me and Norah, and I tread carefully down the hall to the big pedestal tub in our hall bathroom.  I got in the water, and it felt like absolute heaven.  They handed me my pink, naked tiny girl, and I slowly immersed her to her waist in the water.  She rested her fists on her cheeks and blinked her beautiful Asian black eyes and peacefully gazed at me.  "Look at this girl!" I said to Steven.  "She's such a peaceful little soul."  I was so in love.  For the entire bath, she didn't make a single sound.  

After the bath, the three of us settled into our nice, clean cozy bed, and it was the moment I'd dreamed of my entire labor. I could now relax, only I couldn't fall asleep.  I was on some kind of high!  I kept chattering like a crazy person and asking Steven questions about the details of the labor and how every little thing had happened.  He kept telling me how amazing it was and laughing that I couldn't fall asleep after all that hard work.  I was absolutely giddy.

~ ~ ~

You, dear reader, chances are you're a female.  However you birthed your baby, whether or not you're a mama, there's one thing I want you to know:

We are stronger than we think we are.

Where are you needing strength today?  Can you believe that, through Christ, there's more strength available to you than you realize...His strength pulsing through you?  Maybe we all need to push ourselves a little more, sometimes, to places of bravery and courage.

~ ~ ~

The next morning at 9am, we invited my mom and Luci Belle to come back home to meet baby Norah.  I vividly remember hearing the front door of our house open and then Luci Belle's little voice in the hallway..."Mommy?  Daddy?"  "Come in, Belle!  Come see us!"  we answered, as we realized a memory was being created in her little 3-year-old mind for the rest of her life. She slowly pushed open the door and climbed on our bed to see her baby sister for the first time. 

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Luci Belle fell so easily into becoming a big sister.  We are so proud of her.

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Here are a few of my favorite photos from Norah's first few days...

 Meeting papa

Meeting papa

 meeting auntie trish & uncle glen

meeting auntie trish & uncle glen

A few months before I became pregnant for the second time, I dreamt I was holding and looking down upon a little girl with fuzzy brown hair. I wrote it in my journal. And she was finally here.

Norah means "woman of honor; compassion; light" - all things we wanted for our daughter. The name we picked for our first daughter, Luci, also means "light." Norah is also a derivative of the name Helen, which was my maternal grandmother's name. And finally, we've always loved the name Norah because we fell in love to the music of Norah Jones early in our relationship. :) 

Jewell is the first name of Steven's "Gran" who is 93 and lives in a small town in North Carolina and is on Facebook! She's so great! We think her name is beautiful and wanted to honor her in this way.