My due date {Friday the 13th of May 2016} came and went.

I often referred to this as “The Magical Pregnancy” because once I was in the 2nd trimester, I felt so great that I often forgot I was pregnant, even in the days past my due date. On Monday the 16th, Christian and I went to the doctor for routine post-due-date monitoring.

During the non-stress test in the doctor’s office, the baby’s heart rate kept dropping; so low that the nurse thought something was just wrong with the machine. She moved me to another machine and messed with my monitors. I was totally calm. I knew everything would be fine. I was surprised when they told me that I had to go to the hospital for a longer test. Four hours longer.

Christian took some work calls and I tried to distract myself on my phone when he wasn’t cracking me up by pretending he was a doctor, “reading” my monitors and the heart rate papers that piled onto the floor. I really, REALLY did not want induction to be our story. Everyone is different. Many people love the idea of a scheduled induction, but for me, just the thought of it filled me with so much anxiety, it made me sick. The thought of walking down that cold, sterile hallway, being hooked up to an IV and then just sitting there waiting for the contractions to start, knowing that they would, and knowing that the Pitocin would make them more painful, all without that natural pain-relieving oxytocin… No thank you. You know what you know, and all I’d known were epidural-free deliveries, Henry’s because that was my birth plan and Caroline’s because I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t know if I wanted an epidural this time, but I knew I didn’t want Pitocin.

Of course it made me uncomfortable that our baby’s heart rate was randomly dropping from the 160’s down to the 90’s, and of course I was willing to do anything to keep her safe, but I just sat there hoping that somehow, they would tell me it was TOTALLY normal and that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.

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I {sort of} got my wish. In the end, my doctor came in and told me that it was basically my choice. Sometimes, that can feel like the worst. She knew I didn’t want to be induced and her shift was almost over, so she would be leaving soon. She did not feel that the baby was in immediate danger and was willing to give me 36 hours.

A nurse came in with a huge spiral bound scheduling book straight out of a Harry Potter movie, and asked me what time I would want to come. I told her we aren’t morning people, so the later the better, and apparently “late” at a hospital is 6:30 AM. Christian half-joked that we would probably be late. I tried to act strong and lighthearted, but I was discouraged and choking back tears.

The car ride home was quiet. I wondered if we were just delaying the inevitable and if we should have chosen to stay and meet our baby. Christian knows me so well. He started praying out loud, saying, “God, you made this child, you made Heather’s body to do this. We want this to be on Your time, not ours. We trust you. Give us wisdom to protect this baby, which you created. Help us to completely surrender to your plan, whatever that may be.”

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

That evening, we went for a walk, which turned into a bit of a jog, {magical pregnancy}. I held Henry’s hand and we raced Caroline as she rode her bike. We were almost home when I suddenly felt a very sharp pain in my pelvis. When we got home, I sat down to rest and when I went to stand up a while longer, I couldn’t. Like, I was crawling across the living room floor. Magical pregnancy over. It felt like someone had hit me in the pubic bone with a hammer. I couldn’t put weight fully on my legs because my pelvis wouldn’t support it.

I called my doctor’s office and ended up chatting with the on-call doctor for a good while, as we both let our husbands take over bedtime. We talked about my other pregnancies, how I was past my due date this time, the testing I’d been in for that day, baby’s heart rate, the induction I had begrudgingly scheduled and how she just had to make it through that night before she left for vacation the next morning. And, of course, we talked about the immense pain I was experiencing, which she explained was joint pain that happens as the pelvic bones actually begin to separate. I believe her exact words were, “You can ice it and take some tylenol, but that’s like peeing in the ocean. It’s going to hurt. BAD. For a good long while, even after you deliver.” So, I hung up with my newest girlfriend and told her to have a great vacation. I started to think that an induction and an epidural my be exactly what I needed with pain like this to accompany my immanent labor.

At 2:30 AM I was woken by a 2-year-old’s whisper. I tried to get her to crawl in with me but she asked to go back to her bed, so I stood to take her, bracing myself on the bed, unable to stand on my own at first. I carefully managed to take step after step and crawl up the stairs to her room, though I was not able to carry her as she wished. I sat down in the rocking chair and she hopped up on my lap. She wanted to read a story and normally, that would be a great big NO NO in the middle of the night with our little sleep avoider, but for some reason, I said sure, and I asked which book she wanted. She pulled down the book, Hello in There, A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting, (a flap book about a little girl waiting on the baby still inside of her mommy’s tummy).

As I began reading the first page, I felt a contraction, which wasn’t abnormal. I’d been having fairly strong Braxton Hicks for months, and had wondered if I was in labor many, many times over the past several weeks, usually in the middle of the night. But even on that first one, I knew, without a doubt, it was real labor. I was totally sure, and the difference was mostly just that huge burst of energy that always comes with labor. No wonder I had agreed to read her a book. I was wide awake. Caroline had awoken me into labor, if that’s possible.

While I read, I experienced two more contractions. On the last page, the big sister finally gets to hold her new baby. Caroline touched the page with her finger and then held out her hands and said, “I want to hold my baby!” It was one of those Kairos moments in life, when time slows and you realize that this is a very special, very God appointed moment. A gift.

I kissed her head and whispered, “Guess what? I think you’re going to get to hold your baby today. You have to go back to sleep so that tomorrow, you can meet the baby, ok?” Her eyes got really big, as she gasped and made that signature surprised Caroline face that we just can’t get enough of. She crawled back into bed all by herself, gave me a kiss and I whispered, “Go to sleep. The baby is coming today!” She smiled and snuggled into the covers. I will always cherish that sweet memory of God’s perfect timing.

I went downstairs and switched the laundry over to the dryer. I packed a bag for my big kids. I stopped every few minutes to breath through contractions. From the beginning they were over a minute long and 3-5 minutes apart. I began putting on makeup and curling my hair and the squeak of the curling iron woke Christian up. “Heather? Are we going somewhere?” He called from the bedroom. “Yep,” I said. “Yayyy! Baaabyyyy!” He cheered in a very sleepy voice. His pink shirt had been sitting on the bench at the end of our bed for 3 weeks, waiting for him. Our bags had been packed. We were ready.

At 4 AM, I called the doctor to say, “Remember me?”, texted my mom and woke my friend Emily, who would be joining us to take pictures again. I texted a few other close friends to update them and ask for prayers. Christian’s parents arrived about 20 minutes later and I was able to chat with them and exchange hugs before we left. Totally different story from Caroline’s birth.

We arrived at the hospital around 5:30 AM. The car ride was less than fun but I still felt completely in control of my body. The contractions hurt, as contractions do, but I was able to simply breath through them. Walking was another story though. My pelvis felt shattered. Emily greeted us with huge hugs, smiles and energy. She was so excited, and thank goodness, because I suddenly needed a pick-me-up. I shuffled down the hallway where a very cheerful nurse greeted us saying, “You must be Heather! We have been waiting for you! I was starting to get nervous.” (I have a bit of a reputation around there and they thought I may have just had the baby in the car.)

I had planned to use the laboring tub, exercise ball and to walk around during labor. The pelvic injury changed everything. Once I was sitting on that bed, I felt better, so that’s where I stayed. I was 5 cm when we arrived and baby was “really, really low”, as she had been for weeks.

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I was hooked up to heart monitors and for the first time of any of my labors, was able to put on a hospital gown and actually get an IV. It felt so good to be able to talk between contractions and get settled in the hospital instead of the chaotic, out of control feeling I had experienced there in the past. I was so proud that we had met our goal of arriving with plenty of time to spare.

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My nurse, Jen, asked if I wanted an epidural, and I said yes because I feared what was coming, but Emily said, “No, you don’t need that right now. Let’s take this one contraction at a time.” Jen agreed. Christian said, “You’ve got this.” I was scared things would get bad suddenly, as they had in the past, but I took their lead.

We diffused some lavender, listened to the beautiful playlist Emily had created, and just hung out. I relaxed into the bed, chatting with everyone, reading encouraging texts and bible verses that praying friends were sending, stopping to breath when a contraction hit, filling out paper work, chatting some more.

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I had only experienced maybe 3 or 4 contractions since that first check, when Jen said, “Baby did not like that last one. I am going to check you again.” This time, I was 7cm. I was shocked that I was basically dilating a whole centimeter every couple contractions. I suddenly realized my mom hadn’t responded to texts so Christian called to wake her up and she said she was on her way. I had decided that I wanted her there for this one.

 I asked Jen about the baby’s heart rate and she told me that it had dipped into the 80’s on the last contraction, which she thought may be a sign that she was descending down into the birth canal. “It won’t be long,” she told us with assurance before calling the doctor to tell her to head in. I was still all smiles between contractions, which were actually growing farther apart now, giving me nice, long breaks. I reminded her that the baby’s heart rate was doing that even before I was in labor. I kept wondering when that out of control feeling would hit.

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I had a couple more contractions and everything was still very manageable…

Until it wasn’t. {I love these pictures. I’m saying, “DON’T TOUCH!”}

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And it was on that one that I yelped and whispered, “Ah! Urge to push!” I’d really never experienced that before. Or if I had, it was with Caroline, when I was still at home, timing contractions, seeing that they were getting farther apart and convincing myself it couldn’t be time yet. It was so miraculous to be in tune with my body and to just trust it. It didn’t seem possible that I had only had a handful of contractions since arriving at the hospital at 5cm and now, I was sure it was time to push. My body doesn’t do textbook labor. Jen checked me and confirmed I was complete.

Christian said my mom was parking. I couldn’t wait for her. My insides were exploding as I waited those few seconds for the doctor to walk in. Christian got in my ear and started praying. It got me through.

Finally, she was there. I’d never met her before but we were old friends after our long phone conversation just 12 hours earlier. She said, “Heather! Who knew I’d be seeing you so soon!” and immediately took her position. She told me that she would break my water and I could begin pushing right away. “Wait!” I exclaimed, surprising everyone. “Can I have my phone?” Everyone cracked up, including me. Like, Why? Do you need to take a selfie first?

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I knew it was ridiculous but I wanted to change the song. I needed the motivation to push. I chose, “No Longer Slaves” by Bethel because it was the song I’d been listening to over and over throughout my pregnancy and it so perfectly represents what I want our daughter to know about her freedom in Christ. For the girl whose name would mean ‘free’, I wanted this song to be playing when she was born. Emily and Christian both got emotional. And I would have too if I wasn’t in so much pain.

This was it.

As the doctor broke my water, I said something really dumb, like, “This was too easy.”

On my first push, all I could think was, ‘THIS IS SO MUCH WORSE THAN I REMEMBER!’

It was terrible.

Terrible, terrible.

I pushed hard because I wanted it over, and everyone cheered, but after a couple pushes, they told me to rest. I was disappointed she was not out with that first round and not excited to do it again.

“Does she have hair?” I asked, trying to motivate myself to want to meet her.

“Ummm…I didn’t see,” said Christian.

The doctor also didn’t know. “We’ll look on the next push,” she told me.

I could feel where the baby was. How could they not tell whether or not she had hair? I assumed she didn’t.

“Go again!” They cheered. I took a deep breath and pushed as they counted to ten.

I screamed. I never scream during labor. It was just so insanely painful, I could hardly cope. “Hair?” I gasped again between pushes.

Then, this:  Christian looked confused. He said, “I see…

a nose?”

The doctor saw the same thing at the same moment, and she cursed.

“FACE!” she yelled.

“Oh no,” I whimpered, thinking she meant that the baby was sunny side up, which I had heard made for a more painful delivery.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Heather.” She said over and over. “I’m so sorry, but it’s going to be ok.” She looked very concerned.

She started ordering things like gloves and scissors and oxygen and backup.

I heard Jen on the call button, and then… You guys.

I felt that doctor push the baby back up into me.

It was NOT ok.

Jen told me to squeeze her hand.

Emily is a NICU nurse and I noticed that she wasn’t really taking pictures. Actually, she was crying. She stroked the hair on my forehead and said, “It’s going to be ok,” and I realized that they weren’t just concerned about my pain.

I tuned in to what the doctor was saying. “Heart rate?” she asked. (Arm still up there to her elbow, trying to turn the baby.)

“50,” Jen said.

She swore again. Her face said it all. Everything was not ok. I was totally headed for an emergency C-Section. My mind started racing. How were they going to get me to a surgery room? How was I going to bear this pain while they wheeled me there? How will they get an anesthesiologist fast enough? In a flash, I thought of all of the things they would have to do to prep for surgery and I was overcome with fear. Was she going to be ok? Her heart rate was so low.

“I can’t turn her. I’m so sorry, Heather,” she said again. Now she looked like she might cry. “Let’s try one more push.”

I saw the scissors in her hand. I saw the concern on everyone’s faces. Christian looked me with tears in his eyes and said, “You’ve got this.” The pain was unbearable but I pushed anyway. At Christian’s lead, everyone in the room was screaming for me to push. I understood the urgency. I screamed as I pushed with all I had in me and the room began to go black just as someone else rushed in and put an oxygen mask on my face.

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I felt her cut an episiotomy and I was sure I would pass out.

Just as I was giving up, there was a surprising release of pressure.

She was out.

The doctor held her up with trembling hands and exclaimed, “She’s a peanut! She’s so tiny!” I’ll never forget that look of surprise on her face.

The first picture I have is of our hands meeting.

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I remember praying out loud, “Thank you, Jesus!”

The doctor apologized for the episiotomy but I knew that it was the far better alternative to a C Section and I was thankful. While I held her, they explained that she was not only sunny side up, but that her neck was arched back so that literally, she came through the pelvis and birth canal face first, which is far less ergonomical than the preferred crown first, face down position a baby should be in. Her throat was being compressed with each contraction, which explained her low heart rate. It explained my pelvic separation as well. The doctor referred to it as “rolling two bowling balls through your pelvis.”

“Oh, you are my hero today,” she said. “You are wonder woman.” But really, she was my hero that day. She kept apologizing for what she had to do in an effort to turn the baby and get her out, not because she had done anything wrong, but simply because she knew I could feel everything, and trust me, I wish I would have had an epidural in those moments, as I squirmed away from her uncooperatively. Also because if I had been rushed for a C Section, they would have had to put me out completely, but I was thankful for her willingness let me try that last push before taking me to surgery and I was so thankful that our baby was safe in my arms.

I held her on my chest as the doctor worked to stitch me, but it was a lot of pain, so I handed her off to Christian for some daddy skin time.

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She was born at 7:01 AM, just one minute after my doctor started her shift for the day, totally dodging that bullet of a delivery. She’s now 0 for 3 delivering our children and the on-call doctor said she was going to be sure to give her a hard time about it. She finished up and I told her she’d earned her vacation.

Then, Christian handed that sweet baby back to me and we marveled at her very bruised little face.

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Then, Christian checked his phone and said, “OH! Your mom!”

Right. She was supposed to be there for the birth, but when she arrived, the nurse with the oxygen mask was just running into the room and told my mom, “We’ll get you in 10 minutes,” before slamming the door in her face.

My mom said she had a premonition days before that I was going to have a rough delivery, reminding her of her own delivery 31 years ago, when she arrived at the hospital with my feet coming out of her and was rushed for an emergency C Section.

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I nursed her and we all got to hold her for over an hour before they took her over to the warmer to get her stats. She weighed 6 pounds, 9 ounces four days past her due date, making her our smallest baby yet, even smaller than Caroline who was born a whole week early.

In fact, they had to do extra glucose testing on her throughout our hospital stay because she was “low expected gestational weight”. I kept asking questions about why and if she was ok, and Emily said, “You just need to be thankful for this miracle, because if she would have been any bigger, you would have had a C Section.” My nurse, Jen agreed and later explained that delivering a 6 pound baby that way is actually like delivering an 11 pounder and that if she were bigger, it would have turned out differently, which explains why the doctor was so shocked when she came out, and why she excitedly exclaimed, “She’s a peanut!”

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Here is Frances Kate meeting her papa, my stepdad, whose mother, Frances, was born 100 years earlier in 1916.

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At our gender reveal party, we took name suggestions from everyone. He offered up his mother’s name and we wrote it down. In the weeks and months that followed, it continued to stay near the top of our list, though we never share our final name selection with family. In the end, the meaning, ‘free’, was so appropriate for the season of life we are in, and it was the only name on our list that had any family significance.

She shares a middle name with Emily’s daughter in Heaven, Stella Kate.

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Next, I’ll post pictures from our hospital stay, including the ones of these two meeting her for the first time…

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… but those moments are also included in this birth video that Christian made, which makes me cry every single time.

Frances Kate,

We are in awe of how abundantly we can love someone we barely know, how much more cozy our family feels with you in it, and how often you’ve given us 5-8 hour stretches of sleep at night. (We had heard legends about babies like you, but we didn’t believe them!) Oh! And you laugh in your sleep. It’s too much.

XOXO,

Mommy