Michelle’s Joyful Transformational BirthDecember 21, 2019
Anna Joy’s Joyous Birth
“…In that moment, I remembered that one of the bullet points I had written in my birth plan was to “hear the angels singing.” Seriously, who writes that in their birth plan? Apparently, I do.”
“When a woman gives birth normally, naturally, and under her own power, she has incredible strength to accomplish anything she wants, for the rest of her life.” Gentle Birth Choices video
It was early Wednesday morning, September 24th, 2003. Two days past my due date. I dragged myself to the bathroom in a sleepy stupor at 3a.m. When I sat down, I suddenly felt something fall out of me with a plop. I turned on the light and peered down at my bloodstained mucus plug floating in the toilet. My heart raced with anticipation.
Within half an hour, the contractions started. They came about every 20-30 minutes and felt like mild menstrual cramps. I lay in bed and enjoyed each one. These were not like the Braxton-Hicks contractions I’d been feeling for the past few weeks. No, these were different — gentler, milder, definitely hormonal. I couldn’t sleep. At about 4:30a.m., I finally turned over, gently nudged my husband Greg, and said, “I think you’re going to miss your meeting today.” I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.
Night broke into morning. It was overcast and a little drizzly. We called Gail, our doula, at 8:15a.m., and she encouraged us to get some sleep. So I laid in bed upstairs, thinking, “Sleep, Michele, sleep.” But B-Day had finally arrived. I was wide awake. I’ve never been much of a sleeper. Why start now, when I’m about to meet my first child?
The day wore on; the contractions grew stronger and longer. But something was wrong. Sometimes they were seven or eight minutes apart, sometimes eleven, sometimes twenty, sometimes four. I wanted to go to the hospital, thinking that would somehow bring the baby out sooner. Greg and I phoned Jan, the midwife on call, who felt that I was still in early labor. She suggested I stay home and take a warm bath instead. So we stayed home, and, frustrated and exhausted, I began to fill the tub.
I rested in the warm water for two hours, and, miraculously, my contractions came to a screeching halt. The past 17 hours of increasingly tiring, sleep-deprived labor had worn me out, and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Perhaps the contractions would begin again the next morning. Or maybe it was just false labor.
A few minutes after 8p.m., however, I had a strong contraction, followed by a huge bowel movement. Another contraction came. Then another. Every five minutes. They were stronger and regular now, as if my “constipated labor” was now miraculously unblocked. Greg and I threw our bags together, loaded up the car, and, on Jan’s advice, headed over to the birth center around 9:30p.m. We called Gail from the car, who, in turn, called Pam (her student doula). All of us headed to the birth center. I grabbed a saucepan from the kitchen since I’d been peeing every few minutes now, and it was a good half hour drive to the birth center.
Greg looked at the pan, then at me, laughed, and off we went. Thankfully, I never had to use it. Game on! It was finally happening.
I watched the clock in my car as Greg drove. Four minutes apart. Three minutes apart. 9:54. 9:57. 10:01. Labor seemed to be in fast-forward now. We arrived at 10:04p.m. and I labored in triage. At 11:00p.m., I was five centimeters, 100% effaced, and the baby was at -1 station. Twenty hours and only five centimeters?! Are you kidding me?! I was crushed. We moved into our Alternative Birthing room, which we joked was bigger and nicer than a hotel suite. As we entered, I joked, “Wow! I feel like we should unpack our luggage and go sightseeing!” I pulled out the pink butterfly sleeper that I’d bought for the baby and held it over my belly. Gail snapped my picture and then hung the sleeper next to the birth ball where I could see it. We fired up the CD player with some Bebo Norman and settled in.
I got on the birth ball at about 11:50p.m. When the contractions came, I would throw myself forward onto Gail; when they faded, I would lean back and relax on Greg, who was sitting behind me on the edge of the bed. Greg stroked my scalp and face, while Pam and Gail massaged my arms, hands, legs, and feet. I would often look to my right, and there was the pink butterfly sleeper, hanging, waiting for Baby. And someone made sure the music kept playing, though I really didn’t hear much of it. It just faded into the background along with time and space and the rest of the world.
The contractions rattled my whole body. I craved sleep. I told Gail that I couldn’t do it, and she said, “You ARE doing it!” I remember thinking, ‘I can understand why women get epidurals.’ But I never asked for one. Gail told me over and over that I was doing an awesome job, to which I consistently replied, “Yes, I am.” I always joked about how I was very good at “encouraging myself in the Lord.”
Around 4:00a.m., I headed to the bathroom. Greg followed me. I wasn’t sure if I should push, even though I thought I had the urge. I was semi-pushing, semi-holding back, as Greg held me. I wasn’t sure what to do, and I began to feel fear rise up inside me…
…and then I heard Matt Redman’s voice quietly rise up from the background, singing,
“Blessed be your name, on the road marked with suffering, Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your name…”
I felt the lyrics surround me like a blanket. In that moment, I remembered that one of the bullet points I had written in my birth plan was to “hear the angels singing.” Seriously, who writes that in their birth plan? Apparently, I do. I remembered that moment when my midwife had read over my birth plan in her office, and paused at that point, and had said, “We’ll see what we can do” with a smile.
Now, in that moment, when fear threatened to overtake my labor, I swear I could hear them.
Still in the bathroom, I didn’t have the energy to sing aloud, but Greg and I whispered the lyrics together as the music played. He held me close. You could hear a pin drop in that room as everyone — Gail, Pam, Jan, and perhaps others, I wasn’t really sure — watched us sing quietly together, leaning over the bathroom sink, working to bring our baby into the world. It was a worship song that we’d sung in church many Sunday mornings, and now, in the most intense part of labor, it was an awesome, holy moment, as if Someone had suddenly turned the music up in the room.
My heart soared with praise to God. It probably only lasted a few minutes, but it was the wonderful relief I needed to regain strength and settled focus. The moment passed, and we were working intensely again. And the music — which had been playing in the background all night long — faded once again from my conscious awareness.
At 4:15a.m., I got back in the warm tub. The warm water was wonderfully soothing and immediately stopped my hot and cold flashes. Our midwife Jan said, “Michele, lots of women labor in the tub, but not many birth their babies in the water. I know you want to have her in the tub, so would you mind if a couple of student nurses on duty came in to observe and help?” I said sure but was so in the zone I was totally unaware of their presence around the room. Jan told me later that some of the student nurses had told her watching my water birth was one of the coolest experiences they’d had in their training.
Once in the tub, I felt safe and started pushing. Hard. My body demanded it. Over and over, I announced, “This is soooooo hard. This is soooooooooo hard.” And each time, I heard a sea of female voices surrounding me replying, “Yes, Michele, it is hard. You are doing such a great job!” I squinted my right eye open just enough to see them all. Gail and Pam and Greg. Jan and Vida, her student nurse. And several other nurses and student nurses! I literally had my own cheering section. It felt surreal, like the host of heaven came in the room to cheer me on, all the way through pushing. In that moment, I knew God was with me and that this birth was going to bless many, many people. Perhaps in unusual ways. Gail was kneeling on the left side of the tub and Greg on the right. I squeezed my eyes shut again. I now needed every ounce of energy to push my baby out.
After a long, hard push, I relaxed in the tub and said, eyes still closed, “After this is over, I want pizza.” Jan laughed and replied that it might be hard to find a place that would deliver pizza at five in the morning. That rang in my ears. ‘Five in the morning. FIVE in the morning.’ Time had become a blur. One day had melted into the next. Now it was morning and getting light outside. Jan and Vida suggested that they break my bag of waters, and we agreed. I was ten centimeters, no lip, and the baby was at +2 station. I liked the number ten; I finally felt free to push without reserve. Vida had a very difficult time breaking the strong, healthy, “two-eggs-a- day” sac, but she finally did, and, thankfully, the amniotic fluid was crystal clear.
The contractions came stronger now — so intense that they demanded my body to push. I gazed at Greg, who was kneeling on my right, just outside the tub, and told him how much I
loved him. My eyes became wet as my heart exploded with affection for him. I asked Greg to pray aloud with each contraction. The contractions pounded my body and forced me to get up, ready or not, and work. Supernatural power surged through me. I surrendered to it and did whatever my body demanded. I had absolutely no concept of time, but they told me later that I pushed in the tub for three tough hours. And apparently, I kept everyone entertained with jokes that only half made sense. Thankfully, no one videotaped it.
And finally, I heard one of the female voices say, “Michele, why don’t you reach down and find your baby?” I did, and, with a gasp, I touched her incredibly soft head, still inside me. It was the softest thing I’d ever felt in my life. Pam shot some digital pictures of the baby’s head crowning. Gail then leaned over the tub and showed me the pictures. Seeing that mess of wet, black hair provided me with incredible motivation to press on.
A few moments later, with another contraction, I felt my perineum stretching and burning. It was quite painful, but I was determined to push through the burn, no matter what. I kept my eyes tightly closed and set my mind on one thing — to “bite the bullet,” bear down, and push this baby out. I stole another quick touch of her soft, little head. Then, with the next contraction, I gathered my strength, squatted in the tub, ignored the burn, and pushed with every ounce of my strength, yelling, “RING… OF… FIRE!!!” My body didn’t let up as I pushed a loonnnnggg push…and then…
Hallelujah! With that final push, I felt a head — followed by a whole little body — come tumbling out of me and into the water below! On Thursday, September 25th, at 6:51 in the morning, after 28 glorious and grueling hours of labor, Anna Joy came tumbling out of my body, into the warm water, and into the world. I leaned back in the tub as they placed Anna into my arms. I touched her soft, little head, this time resting peacefully on my chest. Outside, the leaves were just beginning to change to yellows and reds and oranges, and the sun was breaking through to light a new autumn day. It was our first child’s first day of life in the world! I was completely breathless with ecstasy and relief.
And in that moment of her birth, I once again heard the music blast forth from the background, as if Someone had suddenly cranked up the volume. But this time it was Chris Rice singing…
And like a newborn baby Don’t be afraid to crawl And remember when you walk Sometimes we fall, so Fall on Jesus Fall on Jesus Fall on Jesus and live!
I wept. And wept. And wept. And said, “You’re here! We did it! WE DID IT TOGETHER!” I’m not sure if I was speaking to Anna or to the Holy Spirit. Probably both.
I held Anna on my chest for what seemed like hours. I felt the slight tug of her cord still attached to me. After her cord stopped pulsating, they clamped it, and Greg cut our daughter’s lifeline to me. Then he began speaking to her: “Hi, Anna! It’s me, your Dad! Remember my voice from when you were inside Mommy? We love you!”
AND SHE TURNED TO LOOK AT HIM, alert and fully aware, and it suddenly dawned on Greg that Anna recognized his voice! With that, he was overcome with emotion. His eyes filled with tears, his lips shook, and he began to sob with joy. “We’re going to watch her grow up and get to know her!” his voice quivered with emotion. “We’re going to grow old together! She is a gift of life!” Never had I seen Greg so thoroughly overwhelmed with emotion, and soon I started crying with him. And then (Gail told us later), every nurse, student nurse, midwife, doula, and student doula in that room had tears in her eyes, watching us swell with emotion. The whole room seemed to explode with emotion, with unspeakable joy. And Chris Rice sang “Come to Jesus” to us all from the CD player, still playing in the background. Gail said it was the most life transforming birth she had ever had the privilege of attending. She still talks about it with great joy in her voice.
I never did get my pizza that morning. But I did get a huge jug of orange juice, and a healthy, beautiful baby girl named Anna Joy Kus. The name Anna means “gracious.” That is what God has been to us in giving her to us. Her birth was one of the most spectacular, supernatural experiences of my life, and every person in the room that morning could feel the tangible presence of God. I had a long and challenging labor, but His grace gave me the strength and the power to accomplish what would have been impossible without Him. My midwife Jan told me later, “Michele, I think you got everything you wanted in your birth plan” and winked at me.
Suzanne Arms once said, “Childbirth is an experience in a woman’s life that holds the power to transform her forever.” It has forever transformed me. I was not the same woman when I left that birth center. I laugh when I recall the many confidence-crushing comments that used to echo in my mind: “Remember, when that pain hits, don’t be afraid to get the epidural.” I laugh because, thanks to God, Greg, and my many wonderful women helpers, I now know birth as something totally different than this.
Instead of countless fearful and helpless hours spent numbed and strapped in bed, at the mercy of the medical staff’s orders, our birth was a joyful, intimate, sacred experience — a powerfully bonding journey for me, for Greg, and for Anna. It was indescribably exhilarating and exhausting. It was our dream birth come true — natural, intervention-free, and wholly ours. My initial hope was simply to avoid drugs and cutting and technology. But what we experienced was lightyears beyond that. Yes, it was difficult — the most difficult work I’ve ever done. But if I’d skipped the work, I might have also missed the ecstasy. And for me, the ecstasy was worth every ounce of work.
Now, the work was over, and we were left with pure joy and the memories of a thousand holy moments. A perfect beginning to our new life as three. Although our birth has gradually turned from experience into memory, the joy has remained, sustaining us for days and weeks, as we slowly adjusted to life with a newborn.
It was, to quote Gail’s doula biz slogan, the “birth of a lifetime.”
In the midst of all of this, I cannot describe the amount of peace and comfort that I feel. I am being cradled into Father God’s arms and I am watching this transformation and life grow in ground scorched with grief and pain.
When my daughter crowned I could feel the stretch (ring of fire) and would describe it as the feeling of an Indian rug burn but I knew that I wanted to let it stretch and focused on relaxing.
What a contrast to my first birthing experience, it was phenomenal! And all thanks to this amazing group – I was able to trust that God had his hand over me and our girl and trust completely that my body knew exactly what it was doing. I even felt (relatively) amazing afterward – literally like I had given birth a week prior not a few hours!