A look at how natural childbirth and God’s grace collided in the most profound moment of our lives.
Oh man, where do I even begin?
As I write this, my precious, perfect baby boy is sleeping soundly on my chest. Today, he is one week old.
Leon James Sgro was born on Wednesday, June 14th, 2017 at 11:01 pm. He was 8 lbs, 7 oz (bigger than we expected!) and had a 14.5 inch head. And he is the most amazing thing that has ever come into our lives.
I’m crying already, and I haven’t even begun! Being a mom makes you soft.
Birth Without Intervention
I knew I wanted a natural childbirth long before I got pregnant. My oldest sister, Ashley, gave birth to all 3 of her kids naturally. Having that influence absolutely gave me the confidence to birth without fear, and that’s what my focus was throughout my pregnancy.
In my opinion, Americans treat birth completely backwards. If you’re not watching some horrific birth scene in a movie or on T.V., your family and friends are telling you their cousin’s brother’s wife’s terrible birth story. It makes me furious.
Everyone around us claims we don’t know what we’re doing, and we just swallow it. Thats ridiculous. Our bodies GROW BABIES. Our bodies take the nutrients we shove in our faces and use it to create a new human life. Then it creates the perfect food for said human and fills our boobs with it so we can feed our babies. Women are freaking amazing!
Tell me again that my body doesn’t know what its doing.
My point is, interventions are so prevalent because women are scared. Society tells us that birth is terrifying and dangerous. In reality, the increase in interventions in our country has NOT had a positive effect on birth outcomes. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recently released this article (click to read):
Approaches to Limit Intervention
During Labor and Birth
Give it a read. Even the experts think the natural way is more beneficial. This isn’t just hippie stuff guys – this is truth.
Look at those big feet!
The Longest Labor in History
Ok, so ‘the longest labor in history’ may be a bit of an exaggeration. But I had some decent Braxton Hicks (“practice”) contractions for about 3 weeks before I gave birth. I wasn’t a huge fan of being pregnant (read about those experiences here), so I was pretty fed up with the nightly “practice”. Leon had been head down for a while, and he was moving lower in my pelvis each day. But we hadn’t seen any signs of real labor, and it started to feel like he was never going to come!
Then, on Monday (June 12th) I lost my mucus plug. We knew that it sometimes comes out way before labor begins. But I was already over 41 weeks, so we were confident that labor had to be coming soon. Contractions began shortly after, and they felt stronger and different from before.
Sadly, after a few hours, they stopped completely. I was not happy. So I let our parents know what was going on, and asked them to pray for progress.
The next morning, I had an appointment at the birth center for my weekly check-up. I had passed my due date, so the midwives were required to send me to Lakeland Regional for a biophysical exam. They were confident that baby & I were both healthy and that we would be cleared to go home and wait it out. But they warned me of the possibility that any issues may result in the hospital suggesting I come back to be induced at the end of the week.
I immediately burst into tears.
Glimpses of God’s Grace
My entire pregnancy was focused on eliminating fear and digging into God’s promises. I knew that he could give me a beautiful birth and the strength to endure any discomfort.
But the thought of being in the hospital for this birth absolutely rocked me. To me, a hospital is where you go when you’re sick, injured, or dying. That was the last place I wanted to be when bringing my baby into the world. If that’s where you feel safe, then that’s where you should be. But I knew it was not where we belonged.
So we went to Lakeland Regional for the “mandatory” exam. They did an ultrasound and checked out all of Leon’s organs. They monitored his heartbeat and measured the amniotic fluid. Around 11 am on Tuesday, June 13th, my contractions came back strong.
God was clearly waiting for the peak moment of drama to kick things off.
The doctor came in to tell us that everything looked great, and that we could head home. Anthony and I laughed at the irony as we walked away from the hospital just as my labor began.
Leon’s Birth Story
The ‘blue room’ at Celebrate Birth Midwifery in Lakeland, Fl.
The first twelve hours of labor were pretty spot on to what I was expecting. Contractions got more intense and closer together. The process was slow, but I was still feeling really good. We had everything ready to head to Celebrate Birth, and a cooler full of food and drinks to keep us going.
We finally arrived at the birth center at 11 p.m. on Tuesday night. Hormones shift at night and typically strengthen contractions, so we were certain that we would be meeting baby boy before sunrise.
HA. Little did we know.
Soon after arriving, my contractions started to get pretty painful. My midwife, Melissa, informed me that Leon’s head was sitting on my spine. This wasn’t going to cause complications, but it wasn’t going to be a fun labor.
With each surge, the bones of Leon’s head were squeezed against my spine. Laying down caused contractions to space out, but also made them much more painful. Anytime I tried to sleep, I was jolted awake and thrown into an intense contraction.
Hours and hours passed as I buried my head in my pillow and yelled in pain. I had pictured myself calm and quiet during birth, facing the discomfort with strength. But in those moments, being vocal was the only thing getting me through. It didn’t take long for me to realize that labor wasn’t going to be quite what I expected.
Wednesday morning was met with the disappointment of spaced out contractions. When they came, they still came hard. But it was obvious that the birth wasn’t coming with the daylight.
At the suggestion of Melissa, Anthony and I took a stroll in the backyard. He hugged and held me as I groaned through contractions. When it got too hot to be outside, I took laps around the birth center living room. We ate some lunch and drank tea, all the while wondering when we would meet our little boy.
Before the birth, I painted the piece below to be my inspiration and my focus during contractions. I was determined to surrender to my body’s natural instincts and let it lead the way. I focused on opening up and relaxing my cervix to encourage baby’s descent. As difficult as it was, I tried to take long, deep breaths during contractions.
To be honest, the pain of back labor was a huge mental challenge. We tried hot baths, cold packs, heating pads, counter pressure, and essential oils to ease the intensity. Nothing soothed me. But the mental exhaustion was the most difficult part. Being in pain made it difficult for me to eat, so I was getting depleted. And a whole night without sleep quickly started to catch up with me.
But God is so good. I prayed to him throughout the process, and he gave me a blessing that outweighed any pain: an amazing birth partner.
Born into Love
This story would not be complete without Anthony. I wish I could fully describe the man that Anthony is. He is kind, compassionate, selfless, gentle, loving, and strong. His love for me is the closest thing to Christ’s love that I’ve ever seen. All the true meanings behind the word “man” apply to him. I know even more so now that he will push himself beyond his limits just to take care of our family.
There is no doubt that this baby boy was born into love. His daddy endured 36 hours of no sleep, holding my hand and encouraging me through each contraction. Anthony was the most amazing birth partner I could’ve ever imagined. He was tired and depleted just like I was, but he told me that I am strong and amazing. Not once did he discourage me from this natural birth path, even in the midst of the hardest moments. We were in this together. We knew this was the healthiest way to bring our baby into the world.
There’s something deeply spiritual and comforting about being able to be completely vulnerable with someone like that. Anthony was a champ during the entire labor and birth. He made me feel like superwoman. If I could wish for one thing for all women during birth, it would be to have that kind of unwavering love and support.
Embracing the Unexpected
Together, Anthony and I faced the hours. As the sun went down on Wednesday, contractions started getting stronger and closer together. But we were approaching 32 hours of labor, and my water still hadn’t broken.
So Melissa suggested we move things along by trying to break my water naturally. She had me lie on my side on the bed, with my bottom leg straight. My top leg was bent and hiked up toward my chest, which pushed baby down and also put pressure on the water bag.
With each contraction, I started to bare down and focus on moving baby into the birth canal. Between the pressure of the contractions, my body’s position, and my pushing, the water should have broken. We tried this for almost an hour with no such luck.
Ya girl was getting a wee bit exhausted.
So we decided to do something we never planned on. We asked Melissa to break my water. The risks were extremely low and we knew something had to be done. Anthony and I were at the end of our rope, and we knew we wouldn’t make it another 12 hours. So using only her fingers and with no pain at all, Melissa broke my water at 8 pm. The liquid was clear, which is an awesome sign of health! We felt incredibly encouraged. A new wave of motivation swept over us. The birth assistant was on her way. Now we knew baby would be coming soon!
“Reach Down & Grab Your Baby!”
It took about an hour for Leon to move far enough down for us to begin working on getting him out. My original plan was to breathe my baby out. If you’ve never heard about this method, you can read about it here.
I still firmly believe that this is the best way to birth, because it puts less stress on your body and baby. But truthfully, I was ready for this process to be over. And so the pushing began.
Originally, I wanted to try squatting or birthing on all fours to allow gravity to help me. I knew it would help take some of the pressure off my back as well. But I was running on E, and I was worried I would burn out before reaching the finish line. So I ended up giving birth lying on my side on the bed to conserve what little bit of energy I had left.
Melissa sat at my feet, applying warm compresses to my perineum and helping to stretch my tissues. Meredith, the assistant, held my top leg up to keep my legs open. And Anthony stood behind me by the bed so I could squeeze his hand.
Time passed like a dream. Some contractions came back to back. Others felt like they were 5 minutes apart. I slipped in and out of reality as I prepared to focus my pushing in the right area with each wave of contractions. Slowly, I began to feel his head bulge between my legs. I was eventually able to feel and then see his head make its way through. Then, with a final burst of effort, I heard Melissa say “reach down and grab your baby!”.
Two hours. That’s how long it took for me to push Leon James into this world. Thirty six hours total labor. And in the end, I got to pull my baby out with my own two hands.
There are no words in our language that can describe that moment. It can only be understood when felt.
So friends, I hope that Leon’s birth story didn’t scare you. Because it wasn’t scary. Sure, it was completely different from what I imagined it would be. But I can honestly say that I didn’t think once about wanting medicine. Even my worst contraction wasn’t enough to draw me away from the most amazing experience of my life. Being wholly awake, aware, and present was incredible. And my favorite part was pushing my baby out. There were times that I thought my back might break or that I was tearing in half. But it felt so good to finally be doing something instead of waiting. And no doubt about it, I would absolutely give birth naturally again.
God’s grace is so sweet. He is so forgiving and loving. When you think you are 100% prepared for life, he changes the game. But those moments teach you so much about yourself.
And what he taught me is that I am STRONG. He humbled me and reminded me to have compassion and grace towards those who choose to birth differently from me. None of us have it all figured out, and sometimes plans change. But in the end, we can claim victory. And there’s nothing in this life more beautiful than that.
Thank you for reading!