At 4:30 pm on July 1st, Courtney and I headed to the hospital for an impromptu appointment. Courtney had been having some back pain and leaking fluid for most of the day, and after consulting with our doula, Doris Ann, she suggested we head up to labor and deliver at Womack Army Medical Center just to make sure everything was okay. It was then that our birth adventure began.
That morning, Courtney and I were enjoying sleeping in on our long weekend. My brother Isaac was visiting from Georgia and we were planning on just having a pretty lazy Saturday at home. Courtney and I got up earlier that day to have some quiet time and actually sit down and talk through everything we needed to have ready for when Baby Boy would be born. You see, we love to be all planned out and prepared, and this time was no different. We had done most of the preparation, but we wanted to sit down and run through everything to make sure we were on the same page with what needed to happen the day that Courtney began labor. Therefore, that Saturday morning, she and I sat on the couch and wrote down the eight things we needed to make sure we accomplished on the approaching day. It was a quick, rough scribble of a rehearsal, but it would give us a better peace of mind once we sat down after my brother left on the 5th.
Isaac and I had previously started making our own corn hole set, so we were going to be pretty busy that Saturday working on the boards. They were already constructed and just needed to be sanded. While we were busy working on that, Courtney occupied her time making a Boppy cover to replace the disgustingly pink one that was previously on the pillow. Just another project on the list of things needing to be accomplished before the arrival.
It was 11:00 that morning when Courtney began experiencing the back pain. It was not unusual for her as she has often had back pain, even before being pregnant. This was also coupled with some leaking fluid that had not happened before. So, after getting the word from our doula, Courtney grabbed a bite to eat, I jumped in the shower (cleaning off the sweat from working outside), and we quickly threw the hospital bag and car seat in the car as a “this-is-never-going-to-happen-but-lets-do-it-to-be-humorously-prepared” type of thing. But we were positive that we would be heading home that night to sleep in our own bed and go about planning.
We joked on the way to the hospital that this could be it. We could be having him in the next 24 hours. We figured that God might just do that to us seeing as how we like to be prepared for everything and this was the moment right before we were. Of course He would test us like that. It’s in His nature; it’s in our nature – to be tried in things that we need growth in. Once again, though, this was all said in jest. All was said with a smile and a laugh, and a whisper of a prayer that it wouldn’t be so.
We arrived on the third floor of the hospital, checked in at the desk while laughing and joking with the nurse who happened to also be from Pennsylvania. Doris stopped by as we were filling out some paperwork since she was already there from another one of her births. She checked in and made sure everything was okay, and we continued to do our paperwork. After that we headed to the triage room for Courtney to get vitals and then get a quick look. Linda, the nurse, gave us a rundown of everything they would do as she was taking pulse, blood pressure, and temperature. She hooked Courtney up to a monitor to keep track of her muscle movements and baby’s heartbeat. That is when they noticed that Courtney was having slight contractions. Doris came back in just to sit with us and see how the tests were going. When she saw the contractions, it invoked quite a bit of laughter as Courtney had no idea she was even contracting. As she said, it was just a constant tightness, not really going off-and-on as she might have thought. This raised some questions as to what that might mean, but once vitals were complete, Dr. Jinx and a first year resident came in to start performing some of the tests to see if everything was okay with Courtney.
First, they took a sample of the fluid and tested it for amniotic fluid. It took a little bit of time because Dr. Jinx was walking the resident through the procedures, teaching her how to do all of these tests. After the fluid came back positive as amniotic fluid, it was determined that there was a small leak in Courtney’s water. Nothing too alarming at this point, but it definitely required further inspection. Therefore, they decided to perform a cervix check. The first year resident went first to determine her best guess as to Courtney’s dilation, if any. She checked and stepped back for Dr. Jinx to perform her check, keeping her guess to herself until the more trustworthy source confirmed. We later found out that she didn’t think Courtney was dilated at all. And it is a good thing she kept it to herself, because once Dr. Jinx checked, she told us that Courtney was 7 cm dilated!! What the resident was actually feeling, the reason she didn’t think Courtney was dilated, was JB’s head. Courtney, Doris and I stared at Dr. Jinx and refused to believe it. How could she be? She wasn’t even in that much pain. She barely had any of the signs that we were supposed to be looking for. Where were her contractions? We all just looked at the doctor and literally said “You’re kidding!” But, no, she most assuredly was not. They confirmed as the nurse, Linda, performed the final examination that Courtney was indeed at 7 cm. This is when a little bit of a tizzy ensued.
Sure, we had grabbed our hospital bag and car seat, but we had left Isaac at home with Atlas. We had not even grabbed all of our stuff that we were supposed to bring – pillows, muffins for the staff (still frozen), chargers, water bottles, toothbrushes. So, as Courtney began moving to L&D room #6, I raced home to gather the supplies. I quickly texted the grandparents, which ended up being the last text to them that night (Whoops!). I gave Isaac a call with the list of things to start getting together. I told him we’d be having the baby tonight, and I needed him to start throwing stuff in bags. He was a champ as he raced around the house getting everything ready for me. I was having an adrenaline rush as all I could think about was that if Courtney had gotten to 7 cm without knowing it, she better not have that baby in the 20 minutes it would take me to go home, get the stuff, and get back. So I race in to grab everything as Isaac continues to get the last few items. I give him some quick instructions on Atlas and then leave our house and our dog in the hands of 13-year-old for who knows how long. I jump in the car and race back to the hospital. As I am in the car, I call Courtney’s mom, Janice; our photographer, and our good friends the Bakers.
I make it back to the hospital, go to the entrance, and it is locked! Locked? Who locks a hospital? Since it was finally after 1700, the entrance that we went through earlier and that I was currently standing at was locked. Did I mention that I was carrying a suitcase, a pillow, and two reusable shopping bags packed full of the random items Isaac and I literally threw together? So, I walked all the way back to my car, then headed to the emergency room entrance. I proceed to then grab all of the items out of the car once again and lumber through the entrance. What I got on the other side was three receptionist/nurses sitting behind the ER counter with an equally shocked and humored look on their face. I stepped just past the threshold, looked at them, and asked in my desperate state, “What’s the quickest way to labor and delivery?” The nurse at the front was speechless and it took her a minute to even change her facial expression while a nurse in the back did not miss a beat and gave me the directions.
I made it up to L&D#6 to see Courtney already adjusted to her new bed and eager to get the special clothes on that she picked out just for this occasion (extra comfy cozy of course). I threw her the dress as the nurse started going through basic information and questions, and Doris stopped by to check in. Jamie, our photographer, walked in after just having been through the same “locked door” experience that I had gone through.
As the initial hub-bub was taking place, Courtney asked me to grab the Birth Dream – the list of requests and alternatives that outlines your ideal expectations during labor, delivery, and post-partum care – to give to the nurse and Doris. The Birth Dream. The one that was in the one bag that I didn’t get from the house. The one that Courtney specifically reminded me to get. So, after a brief begrudging moment, I zipped back to the house to meet Isaac outside with the backpack. He literally through it in the window as I barely even came to a stop. I flew back to the hospital – this time to the correct entrance – and back to the room. Thankfully, nothing serious had happened while I was gone, and now the medical team and our doula had the handy Birth Dream.
(Just a brief side note: you must understand my mindset at this point. Here I am, seeing that my wife just made it to 7 cm without so much as a groan or wince. I figured that in the few minutes I had to run to the house in back, that JB would slide right out. Looking back, I had all the time in the world…)
It was now about 7:30 pm. We went from laughing and joking about staying the night, to actually being in the room ready for the long haul – or not so long, we thought. During the next hour we got to meet the night shift, including our Midwife Alma Kay. She was very sweet and soft-spoken, but held a very powerful presence. For the next hour Courtney and I hung out in our room chatting, joking, still in disbelief that we were actually there. Doris was helping Courtney by giving her a back massage with some kind of eucalyptus lotion while Courtney gently bounced up and down on a yoga ball. At this point, we were still high on adrenaline and excitement.
At 8:30 pm is when things began to change. Courtney was standing, swaying back and forth when she said “Here it comes”. Her face became serious and her breathing changed as she finally had to work through a contraction. It was short and still very manageable for her, but this was a sign that things were changing. Doris even made a note of it and pointed it out to me. Not long after, Alma Kay came in and she and the nurse began asking Courtney if she could try to hold off until 10:30 pm. At this point, everyone had seen how gracefully Courtney had gotten to 7 cm, and they were concerned that she would end up pushing that baby out within the next two hours. Now, the reason they wanted to hold off until 10:30 is because Courtney was required to take antibiotics due to the results from previous testing – she was GBS positive. She had her first dose at 6:30 when I was running around and the doctors feel most comfortable when it has been in her system for four hours to ensure the baby received the dose as well. If not, then there is the potential the baby would need to be hooked up as soon as he was born. It would make everything much simpler if Courtney was able to hold off – like it was in her control anyway! But Courtney and I would try our best.
We continued to bounce, sway, dance, squat, and breathe together like two synchronized swimmers who had been practicing together their whole life. We were in the groove. As Courtney’s contractions got stronger, I pulled out some verse and prayer cards that Courtney and I had prepared and had been meditating on in the months leading up to this moment. I began to cite verses on confidence for Courtney and say a prayer that we had written just for this night. We were trying to keep a heavenly focus as the challenges increased.
Not long after Alma Kay and Tammy asked Courtney if she could make it to 10:30, Alma Kay was back in to check Courtney’s cervix once again. She was 100% effaced, but still at 7 cm. What’s more, is that they determined that JB was OP, meaning that he was occiput posterior or the back of his head was to Momma’s back which is backwards.
At this point, I will say, that even through Courtney’s increasing pain, I did laugh because this is exactly how Courtney came out. I just couldn’t help thinking to myself that this may be just a little bit of payback. Looking back now, Courtney should have smacked me for thinking such things.
This is when Doris kicked it into high gear. It was now her sole mission to get JB to turn around the right way. First thing was to get Courtney in bed on her side. They put this giant oblong yoga ball called the “Peanut” in between her legs and started twisting her like a pretzel to help baby boy begin to make adjustments. All the while, Courtney’s contractions were increasing and she began holding on to the side rails and learning to breathe through each one. After about twenty minutes on her side, Doris had Courtney on her hands and knees moving back and forth with each contraction, breathing through them and once again attempting to turn JB.
Another trick of Doris’s was to use the toilet. I hope I’m not revealing any trade secrets here, but since the toilet is something we are all commonly associated with, we actually know how to relax in that position. Therefore, we took many trips to the bathroom to help Courtney to relax and hopefully break her water (which would be in an extremely convenient location!).
Unfortunately, by 10:30, Courtney’s water still had not broken and JB was still OP. However, the second dose of antibiotics could then be administered and baby and Momma were considered protected. Doris took the time to talk us through the option of breaking Courtney’s water in order to speed up the process. This would cause JB’s head to drop lower in the pelvis and push on the cervix which should speed up the process of labor. It did not take much convincing and we proceeded with the procedure, which was just a quick prick of the amniotic sack with a cool looking instrument (pretty neat from my perspective, not so much from Courtney’s).
I gotta say, by this point I was just waiting for that boy to come right on out. I figured, water broken, 7 cm, stronger contractions…it has to be any time now. Boy was I wrong.
The water was broken, JB’s head dropped, and Courtney paid the price. Her labor became much more intense. We were standing, swaying, and she just collapsed into my arms with each contraction. She no longer could sit on the ball or squat (something about working out too hard the day prior…go figure, Courtney crushing some squats the day prior to labor). Soon, we moved to the bed, and I saw Courtney’s face start to change even more. She began to become disconnected. It was now her battle with each contraction. Doris coached her through; I tried to help, encourage, support.
Soon, the clock passed midnight. We were just going from contraction to contraction. Unfortunately, JB still had not turned. Courtney was becoming more and more detached from the moment as the little fuel she had eaten before we got to the hospital was wearing out. She stayed a champ, though, breathing through each contraction in silence. Doris continually had Courtney up and moving, swaying; then on the bed on all fours moving back and forth; then in the bathroom trying to relax. As I watched her go through this, I really had no idea how she could keep going. I would try talking to her, but at this point, she wasn’t even responding. All she kept asking is “What next?” It was said in barely a whisper. All she wanted to know was what Doris needed her to do during the next contraction.
As she continued breathing through each one, Doris had her transfer to the shower. For the next forty-five minutes, Courtney and I stayed in the shower as she held on to the handicap bars for support and I used the shower head to spray warm water on her back, then her stomach, then back again. For forty-five minutes Courtney labored in there, trying to turn JB. She began squatting again trying to fight through the pain at the onset of each contraction. Courtney began to get really warm so I fed her ice chips one by one to try to keep her hydrated and cool. Around 2:00 am on the 2nd of July, Courtney was still persevering through in the shower. She was just starting to get the urge to push, so Doris had her keep working through each one in the shower.
I just want to reiterate that we all thought this baby was coming before midnight. Remember when I said that the Midwife and nurse asked if she could even wait until 10:30? Yeah, so this totally blew all of my expectations out of the water. Now, here I was watching my wife literally burned out and she hadn’t even started the hard part yet.
It was at this time that Courtney became overwhelmed by the heat of the water and exhausted with the labor. Through quiet breaths, she barely uttered “I think I’m going to pass out”. At that point I dropped the shower head and braced her under her arms. She held onto the shower bars but slouched the majority of her weight into me. Thankfully, Doris walked in the door from having stepped out for a brief second to check on her other patient. I told her that Courtney thought she was going to pass out, and she said, “Oh no you’re not!” Doris helped me grab her and take her to the bed.
Courtney collapsed on to the bed exhausted. Alma Kay and Tammy came in to the room and we all prepared for Courtney to start pushing. For the first thirty to forty-five minutes, they had Courtney push. At this point, though, JB was still OP. This posed a major problem, still. They finally had Tammy help to manually turn him. Slowly, as Courtney pushed, Tammy helped guide JB’s head around so that he would be in the correct position for delivery. While this was extremely uncomfortable for Courtney, it lasted only for a few brief moments. Once turned, she commenced pushing once again.
I will say this over and over, but I really have no idea how she kept going. Courtney was falling asleep between each push because her body was totally spent. She had absolutely nothing left, but somehow she was able to push when each one came.
Now, as Courtney started pushing, we began to face some complications. As JB moved lower through the pelvis, he was unable to regulate through each contraction. His heart rate started dropping to 50 bpm each time Courtney pushed. At this point, Alma Kay had Courtney stop trying to push JB out; instead, Courtney was to breathe through each contraction and only push to take off the edge. In between each push, my job was to put an oxygen mask on her and fan her with the closest thing I could fine (which happened to be Doris’s file folder). JB was not liking her contractions at all. I started to get nervous as well as the OB began frequently stopping by to make sure that JB was doing okay. In and out of consciousness, Courtney worked through each contraction. She wanted to push, but had to resist. Alma Kay ended up attaching an electrode to JB’s head so they could get a better read on his vitals as the monitor was unable to capture the whole picture the lower he descended into the pelvis. After what seemed like forever, JB finally started to cope with each contraction.
It was a little after 4:00 am and Courtney resumed pushing. Still drifting in and out, she pushed with everything in her. I continued to place and remove the oxygen mask, fanning her with the folder, and kissing her head offering her words of encouragement that fell on deaf ears. But it didn’t matter, because she was doing it. Twenty minutes later, as Courtney continued to labor, her pushes began to fall short. She was hitting a wall – a wall a million times past where I thought that wall to be earlier in the night. She was literally shutting down. Doris and Alma Kay kept trying to push her to a ten second push. She would hit all ten counts, then slowly they became nine count, then eight; all the way down to a five count. JB wasn’t moving and Courtney was crashing. By this time, I could barely make out a few hairs on JB’s head as I looked through the birth canal. How invigorating and encouraging for me! I tried to relay that excitement to Courtney, but it fell short. She just needed to get through each push as she could.
Doris and I began to exchange glances. My look – questioning, looking for reassurance for my wife. Doris shook her head. She wasn’t doing what needed to be done to bring JB into this world. Alma Kay, with her quiet authority came up on Courtney’s side of the bed from having been watching her push from the bottom for the last few hours. She quietly told Courtney that her pushes were falling short and they would administer some Pitocin in order to help her body begin contracting to help her push the baby. Now, Courtney’s utmost desire was an un-medicated birth. Thus far, she had reached her goal. If I ask Courtney now, she barely remembers Alma Kay and Doris telling her about the Pitocin. Subconsciously it must have gotten through, though, because on that next push, she contracted her body with such vigor and intensity unlike any the two and a half hours prior. At that, Alma Kay didn’t mention the Pitocin again.
For the next twenty to thirty minutes I witnessed the most amazing thing of my life as my best friend brought our son into this world. I diligently fanned her and gave her oxygen as she slaved away with each push. I saw JB’s head push further and further out. I continued to kiss her forehead and whisper prayers as she fought. At one point she stalled for a few minutes as she hit the “ring-of-fire”. She was suddenly able to speak again and blurted out between gasps, “That ring-of-fire is no joke! It burns!” She began pushing even harder. Doris asked for three good pushes, Courtney gave her five. And so it went until, finally, at 5:02 am James Michael was delivered into this world.
What happened after that was a blur. JB was on her chest. I was kissing her and saying hi to our son. Both of my two favorite people had just been through some of the greatest trauma of their lives, and they were handling it wonderfully. I was beside myself with joy. That moment was fleeting though as JB began turning white, which my untrained eye didn’t even realize what was happening. Apparently, as he lay on Courtney’s chest, he became comfortable again and forgot to breathe. Oxygen was not getting to his brain and organs. The nurse quickly whisked him away to the baby cart in order to get him screaming again which flooded his body with the oxygen he needed. I stood by the cart watching him regain color as the nurse conducted all of her checks. Courtney lay exhausted on the bed as they began to stitch her up as she had a slight tear. I just stood there glancing back and forth from my son and my wife, worried, elated, exhausted, and at peace.
I am so thankful for each and every person that was with us during our birth journey. Jamie for capturing these photos. Tammy, the nurse, for her humor and strength. Alma Kay for her quiet and reassuring presence. Most of all, Courtney and I thank God for Doris Ann. She was more than we could have ever dreamed of for a doula. I still don’t know how she was able to manage two births at one time and still look as lively as she did and never missing a beat. She was our rock through the entire process. Courtney and I both leaned on her for all of her wisdom and experience in the decisions we made and the actions we took. She was our Southern Momma in the room guiding us through. We loved having you, Doris, and all three of us thank and praise God for you.
I want to end with this: what I witnessed in Labor and Delivery Room Number Six was an overwhelmingly beautiful struggle. I saw my best friend push through barriers I could not have even imagined. I broke as I saw her suffer in the last hours. I prayed that God would make it come to an end. At the same time, I marveled at the moment she began to push JB’s head out of her body. I saw the love of my life in excruciating pain, and I watched her push through it in silence. Not once did she ask for something to take away the pain. Only once did she let out any sound, and it was a scream the moment JB was born. I was humbled by the whole. To wait nine months. To watch Courtney endure. To meet our son. When JB was finally placed on her chest, the emotions were overwhelming. I cried. My eyes are tearing now as I remember the moment. All the pain, the agony, the exhaustion, the struggle. It was over. Courtney had persevered with such confidence, peace, and joy. I witnessed God’s hand through it all, and I saw His miracle in the birth of JB.
All photography credit goes to the amazing Jamie Pope Photography!