Tessa’s birth story is my favorite thing I’ve ever written. To be able to capture the memory of her birth in this way for her to someday read is a true privilege, and I’m also excited to share her story with all of you. As some of you know, my husband Grant and I chose to have a completely natural birth with Tessa. This was an intimidating decision for me at first, but I had full faith throughout my pregnancy that this was the right route for us to take. Although I am a strong advocate for natural birth and I believe the decision to have a natural birth was a substantial reason for the beauty and ease of my labor, I want to clarify that I do not wish to minimize any birth story that differs from mine. One of the most amazing things about labor is that it is a truly personal and unique experience for every woman, and my hopes in sharing the story of Tessa’s birth is that you’re able to get a good glimpse of mine.
What’s miraculous to me is that I have almost no recollection of the pain of childbirth. In fact, I could not remember what my contractions even felt like minutes after Tessa was born. I know it was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt, yet no matter how hard I try, I still to this day can’t recall it. The only pain from my ten-hour labor that has remained in my memory is the feeling of her crowning as I was pushing, which was not nearly as painful as the contractions prior to that moment. I’m making a point to share this because I truly believe that my inability to remember the pain is an amazing blessing and design of God. There are several studies that conclude that having a positive, natural labor can allow women to overcome their experience and memory of labor pain, particularly due to the uninhibited hormones at play. How amazing is it that God designed us this way?
I cannot stop praising Him for the experience and outcome of my labor, which you will soon find as you read. You will also find that I cannot stop bragging on Grant, who played an extremely crucial role throughout the entire process. In preparation, we took a twelve-week childbirth course called the Bradley Method that focuses on natural, husband-coached labor. Grant was indeed my labor coach in every sense of the word and I could not have brought our daughter into the world without him.
To help with the flow of Tessa’s birth story, I broke her story up into several short chapters. I attempted to record as much detail as possible, but there is still so much left unsaid. It’s simply impossible to capture the entirety of such an incredible experience. I hope you enjoy reading about it as much as I enjoyed writing it. In my proud mama opinion, Tessa’s birth story is definitely one for the books.
Tessa’s due date had come and gone. We were now ten days overdue, desperately trying every natural induction method we knew of so we could finally meet our daughter. A few days prior, my grandmother told me that she heard God saying Wednesday would be the day. Well, it was now Wednesday, and Grant and I were still waiting. About mid-afternoon, I suggested to Grant that we go for a walk around our neighborhood. As we walked, I began having this gut feeling that it was time to take our dog to my mom’s house. I had not yet been having contractions, but the stirring in my soul made me believe the time was near. Lo and behold, as soon as we finished our walk and put the leash on our dog, I had my first real contraction.
I had often wondered if I would know when I was going into labor, especially considering how I hardly felt any Braxton-Hicks or “practice” contractions up until that point. There was definitely no guessing on these contractions. I immediately entered a more serious state of mind, requiring stillness and concentration with each one. When one began, I would motion for Grant to rub the center of my lower back in a circular motion due to the back pain that consistently peaked and fell with my contractions. Unfortunately for him, this was only the beginning of what would become a nine-hour back rub. Praise the Lord that his wrists did not give out on me!
For two hours, we timed my contractions at approximately one minute long and four minutes apart. Because I am a first-time mom, which often means a longer labor, and because we were committed to laboring naturally without medical intervention, we stayed home as long as we could. Surprisingly, this wasn’t very long at all. Less than four hours after I first began having labor pains, we called our family, notified our doctor, and headed to the hospital. It was approximately 7:00pm. Our baby girl was coming!
Upon arrival at the hospital, I was taken to triage where I was hooked up to an external monitor. I loathed being confined to the bed for that hour, especially as the severity of my contractions increased over time. I was slightly disheartened to hear that I was only two centimeters dilated and I feared that they would send us home, but I suppose the fact that I was ten days overdue and already having contractions so close together persuaded them to prepare a room for us.
When I was finally allowed to leave triage, I went to the waiting room to see our family members for the first and last time. I had already decided months earlier that I wanted my labor to be purely spent with Grant. For some time, I wrestled with guilt for wanting to keep my family away, but I see in hindsight that it was definitely the right decision for me. Grant was the only coach I needed and I required his undivided attention. Even hearing nurses talking to him during my contractions was enough to break my concentration and warrant a stern stare and angry groan.
We spent the next hour walking the halls, pausing about every four minutes for my contractions. Each time one began, I would wrap my arms around Grant’s neck and gently fall into him, allowing him to support some of my weight while simultaneously rubbing my lower back. I couldn’t speak during my labor pains, but the one noise I did make was an owl-like hoot with each exhale. This productive labor noise, as well as the stroking of my hands on Grant’s shirt or the bedsheets, were constants for me for the entirety of the labor.
I labored in various positions — on my side in the bed, walking through the halls, on my hands and knees, and even on my birth ball. The positions changed, but the method remained the same. Focus on Grant’s voice. Make productive noises. Stroke the sheets. Back rub. Another one of the most valuable tools we utilized for my labor was my worship playlist. For hours on end, I alternated between listening to Grant’s encouragement and coaching, concentrating on the songs of praise, and talking to myself in my head. You can do hard things, Jessie. This is not the worst pain in the world. Remember the plane crash episode of Grey’s Anatomy? See, at least you’re not popping your own bones back into place! At times, it felt as though I was willing myself to escape the present by entering into a more meditative zone. At other times, all I could think of was the excruciating pain and escape was not an option. By 12:30, my water had broken and I was nearing the hardest part — the transition stage.
While laboring on my side in bed with Grant still faithfully rubbing my back, my body began shaking all over. I couldn’t keep my arms and legs from shivering, and that’s when I knew I was entering into transition. I would now be dilating those last few centimeters before the pushing stage, and even though I had no way of knowing just how long I’d be in transition, I fervently hoped that the time to push would arrive soon.
This was when my pain was at its worst. A part of me believes that if a doctor had come in and offered an epidural at this point, I might’ve actually accepted. For this reason, I am thankful that I explicitly wrote in our birth plan, “please refrain from offering Jessie pain medications.” I’m also thankful that Grant did not leave my side. He would not have let me abandon our plan for a natural birth and I would not have wanted him to. We were on the same page from start to finish, in sync and working together to bring our daughter into this world.
When I look back on my labor, I see just how romantic it really was. Grant and I were engaging in an amazing act of love and intimacy. I had never been more vulnerable or dependent upon him, and he had never been more selfless and heroic than in those difficult ten hours. He wasn’t that partner merely holding my hand as we often see in movies; he was deep in the trenches with me. My love for him increased ten-fold that night, and it’s been increasing ever since as I watch the way he loves our little one.
Transition lasted about an hour, but it felt like an eternity as the contractions arrived one on top of the other and threatened to consume me. I frantically tried to hold onto Grant’s voice as he kept assuring me that I was nearing the end and we were close to meeting our baby. Almost every part of my body wanted to tense up and writhe in pain and I had to be consistently reminded to relax each part so that I would work with my contractions and not against. This was when I began to lose my productive labor noise and replace it with groans of pain. I had to be steered back on course many times. Relax your shoulders, baby. Relax your hands. Let it go. Let it go. Productive noise.
Every now and again, I would muster the strength and focus to whisper the name Jesus, and Grant would echo it with me. Never before had Romans 8:26 felt so real to me.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26).
I knew the pushing stage was coming soon when I began feeling the urge to empty my bowels with each contraction. I was told that I would lose my modesty at some point in labor, and I certainly did. By the time I was getting ready to push, I had shamelessly pooped in front of my husband and stripped off all of my clothes until I was laying completely naked on the delivery table. I felt like an Amazonian woman in all of her primal, natural glory. What I would give for a picture of this moment! After the midwife arrived and my bed was lowered, nurses came over to hold my legs up toward my chest. As soon as the midwife gave her approval, the pushing began.
Pushing out a baby was a little trickier than expected. I had been taught the proper positions and technique, but did not expect how counterintuitive it initially was for me. The midwife gave me instructions on when to take my big inhale and how long to hold my breath and push, but she had to repeat herself many times before I got it right. Instead of holding my breath, I would unintentionally let out air as I grunted. Instead of pulling my knees toward my chest, I would rely on the nurses to do the work for me. I only had to push for twenty minutes before Tessa was born, but it took me the first ten minutes to figure out what I was supposed to be doing.
Grant put on a scrub gown and gloves and stood at the end of the bed next to the midwife. This was the first time I was seeing his face in many hours. His job at this point was to help me focus on the instructions I was being given and to be prepared for catching our daughter. If I could go back in time, I would’ve also given him the task of taking pictures and videos. My one and only regret from my delivery is that I have no record of it. I wish I could play it all back like a movie, but all I have are my memories.
Pushing did not hurt nearly as much as I expected it to. I felt “the ring of fire” as Tessa’s head was crowning, but it was manageable. The thing about labor is that in most cases, it’s entirely manageable, particularly when there has been preparation beforehand. The keys to success are knowing how to relax, how to breathe, how to visualize and how to push. Grant and I had trained and practiced for this labor like a runner would for a marathon. For this reason, I found the pushing stage almost enjoyable. I was able to focus past the pain and envision my baby girl’s entrance into the world. I felt like I was finally about to receive the trophy at the end of a long race.
Tessa’s head came out first, followed by one arm and then the other. With another push, the rest of her body tumbled out into her daddy’s arms. It was October 13th at 1:37 in the morning, the most glorious moment of my life. Grant passed our daughter to me, placing her on my bare chest, and I was momentarily speechless and in disbelief. This beautiful baby was mine.
Because she had swallowed some amniotic fluid, nurses were patting her on the back and suctioning out her mouth as she laid on my chest. She cried and coughed and sputtered for a little over five minutes before they deemed her healthy enough to stop. For those five minutes, Grant and I laid hands on Tessa and fervently prayed. We declared favor and perfect health over her in Jesus’ name. We commanded the fluid to leave her lungs alone and to be completely expelled from her body. As we transitioned from praying into singing along with the worship that was still playing, I felt a deep unity with Grant like never before. This is by far my favorite part of Tessa’s birth story and one of the greatest privileges I’ve ever been given. From the moment she took her first breath, she was covered in prayer. God entrusted this little one to us and we were not going to forget that for one second.
Tessa and I laid skin-to-skin for an hour before we let our family come and meet her. When my mom and grandma entered into the room, I couldn’t help but beam with pride — not only because of how beautiful and perfect she was, but also because of my own accomplishment and victory in giving birth to her. I felt unstoppable, like I might never doubt my capability or strength ever again. In my mind, her and I would forever be a force to be reckoned with.
One of the things I make sure to tell people when they ask about my labor is that while the labor itself was incredibly beautiful and empowering, the postpartum period was not as picturesque as I had hoped for or imagined. I was very caught off guard by how little I felt for my child immediately after she was born and placed on my chest. I had always envisioned myself falling in love with my baby as soon as I laid eyes on her, being overcome with gratitude and unable to hold back tears of joy. But when I first laid there with her, I didn’t feel that way at all. I had a hard time accepting that she was really here and she was really mine. Holding her and touching her felt so foreign to me. I didn’t even shed a tear. This lack of emotion I felt eventually led to guilt and questioning. Was I already becoming a bad mother? Does postpartum depression hit that quickly? What if I never love my child?
After we were moved to our suite and able to settle in, I confessed to Grant what I was thinking and feeling. He reassured me that I was not heartless and I was perhaps still in shock from the pain I had just endured. Even with his reassurance, though, I feared that I would continue to feel a lack of connection with Tessa. A part of me was even angry at myself for not being more excited and joyful. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
Breastfeeding for the first time did help me bond with her, as did continuing to have skin-to-skin contact. But the first time I felt a true overflow of emotion for her occurred hours after she was born as she laid on my chest in our suite and I rested my chin on her head. I couldn’t believe how soft her hair was. It was the softest thing I had ever felt in my entire life. With eyes closed, I began to gently stroke her head with my chin. And just like that, a flood of love rushed into my heart and I felt like I was floating on cloud nine. This was a magical moment, the one I had been waiting for. “She’s so beautiful,” I whispered to Grant before beginning to sob. I was forever changed from that moment on.
Our two-day hospital stay consisted of many beautiful moments like this, as well as frustrating and emotionally draining ones. A lot of frustration and sadness was because of how difficult breastfeeding was for me. I thought it would come naturally, but it was something both Tessa and I had to learn. Hearing her cries of hunger broke my heart at times because I felt like I couldn’t give her what she needed. I later was informed by a nurse that part of the reason for our difficulty in getting a good latch was most likely because I didn’t give myself enough skin-to-skin time with her in the first 24 hours. I was so happy to show her off to all of our visitors that I didn’t mind having her frequently passed around and held by others. If I had known better, I would’ve been more jealous for her and fought for our right to exclusively bond as mother and daughter.
Besides enjoying passing Tessa around, I loved sharing details about the labor with all of our visitors. I especially couldn’t brag on Grant enough. I made sure the whole world knew that he was the most amazing husband and labor coach I could’ve ever asked for. I could have a hundred babies as long as he’s by my side.
Tessa’s birth story is so special to me, not only because she is my firstborn but also because it felt like a coming-out party for us both. She was the star of the show with her grand appearance, but this was also a time that I was able to truly shine, as well. All of my life, I have struggled with taking the hard path and being willing to put in hard work. A lot of things were just handed to me. Shortcuts, compromises, and the easy way out were my forte. But with Tessa’s birth, I did what I would’ve once told myself I could never do, which is have a completely natural labor. No shortcuts. No compromises. No easy way out. I praise God that I made it to the finish line having met my goal and I carry around this accomplishment as a reminder that He makes me strong. My motto now is, I can do hard things.
It’s been almost a month since we’ve come home from the hospital. I don’t get a ton of sleep and breastfeeding is still new to us both, but I’m bonding with my daughter more and more each day. The most challenging part of parenthood so far has been getting used to being her everything. I’m not only her source of food, but also where she finds security and comfort. Grant is a huge help in so many ways, but there are simply some burdens that I have to bear on my own. For this reason I’m having to pray often for the strength and patience to be the mom she needs me to be. Despite its challenges, it is an incredible gift to be Tessa Grace’s mother. I am forever changed and thankful.