From the intensity of the decision to deliver at home, to the challenge of my first natural labor, to the healing aspect of an emotional release, and the impact of the birth on my relationship with Brandon and Emma … Janel’s birth was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.
I’m still basking in the afterglow of welcoming Janel into our family in such a peaceful and powerful way, and I believe this feeling will come rushing back every time I reflect on her birth.
Enjoy the video below and then read my account of Baby JJ’s birth.
I’ve broken the birth story down into two parts. 1) Preparing for Labor and Delivery and 2) Welcoming Janel James into the World
Part 1: Preparing for Labor and Delivery
The decision to deliver at home is not one Brandon and I took lightly. We found out we were expecting JJ shortly before the pandemic began. I delivered Emma, Cole, and Lily in a traditional hospital setting, with an epidural and all the “features” a hospital birth has to offer. Their births were smooth and uneventful. During my first trimester with JJ, we were quickly made aware of the unique challenges of pregnancy and delivery during a pandemic. I was required to wear a mask to each appointment and Brandon could not accompany me, even for ultrasounds. We began to hear rumors of mandatory COVID tests upon arrival to the hospital and strict protocols during labor and delivery. Additionally, we knew family members and doulas were not permitted to be present at the birth or visit afterwards. It also made us uneasy to attend all appointments and ultimately the birth at the hospital where many of the sick individuals in Tampa were admitted. We quickly began to look into additional options for labor and delivery. A few friends of mine had enjoyed at-home births, and after a lot of prayer and research, we decided to pursue a home birth for our fourth baby. I hired a local Midwife and Doula who came to the house for each appointment, and we began our journey toward delivery in the comfort and safety of our own home.
In many ways, I felt like I was preparing for my first ever birth. We began Hypnobirthing classes and I learned as much as possible about the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of labor and delivery. Brandon had been present in my three previous births, but was primarily hands-off as we let the nurses and doctors do their thing. We knew this time would be different but I had no idea how impactful his love and support during labor would be until my first real contraction began.
Although we prepared for this delivery more than any before, it still came with its fair share of fears. Many of my friends were supportive, but a few were not, and that was hard. Days before I went into labor, a soccer mom asked me where I was planning to deliver as we were walking to our cars with the kids after a game. I told her I was going to do an at-home birth to which she yelled, “You’re crazy. I’m sorry but I can’t help but say that.” I glanced over at Emma who seemed to be fairly unphased, but interactions like that one were common. However, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s to not allow fear or other people’s opinions to drive my decisions. I was confident in our decision as I weighed the options and we were grateful to have the choice.
In the weeks, days and hours leading up to Baby JJ’s birth, we were eagerly waiting on “real contractions” to begin. I traditionally have very strong Braxton Hicks starting fairly early in the third trimester. This fourth pregnancy was no different. For weeks on end, my Braxton Hicks were a constant reminder that my body was preparing for the labor and delivery of baby girl. The final days of pregnancy are a unique place of in-between for me. It’s an emotionally and physically draining time. I struggled to sleep because JJ was so active at night and I had to go to the bathroom 5-7 times at minimum. Work became a chore and added to my exhaustion. I was swollen and uncomfortable, but most of all – ready to meet my baby girl.
I told my midwife and doula that I usually deliver “early,” so we were all gearing up and prepared to go from about 36.5 weeks forward. I bake my babies quickly. 🙂 Emma, my oldest, broke my water at exactly 37 weeks. Cole broke my water at 39 weeks, and with Lily I went into labor at 37 weeks 5 days. My due date was October 20. My inclination was that she would grace us with her presence around or shortly after the first weekend of October. There was a full moon on Thursday, October 1, and I thought that may also get things moving a bit. Since I was planning to deliver at-home, I knew JJ needed to spontaneously start labor at some point before 42 weeks to avoid a hospital induction.
On October 1 I was at the office for my final day before maternity leave and I lost my mucus plug/bloody show right before I left work for the day. Considering I had been dealing with constant strong Braxton Hicks, I was thrilled my body seemed to be gearing up for labor. I immediately started Googling “how long after bloody show will labor begin?” It’s funny how even after 4 pregnancies, I turned to Dr. Google on a seemingly daily basis, haha. I notified my birth team and went home to relax for the day in the event that labor was right around the corner. In the evening I relaxed in the hot tub with the kids and after they went to bed, enjoyed a stunning night sky complete with a full moon, while I listened to my Christian Hypnobirthing Tracks. Braxton Hicks were coming fast and strong, but no real contractions.
I woke up on Friday morning, slightly annoyed I was still pregnant, and also nauseous. Nausea is often a sign for me that labor is right around the corner. Could this be the day? My midwife was planning to come for our weekly check-up in the late morning, so I invited her and my doula on the boat and brunch. I figured if I was going to be on the boat, it would be good to have my birth team present in case I went into labor. After all, I wanted a water birth, but not that kind of water birth. We took the boat out and I purposefully went over some decent wakes/waves to see if I could encourage baby into position. We then docked the boat and took a walk to brunch which got my Braxton Hicks contractions going even more.
We got back home and I sent my birth team on their way since real contractions hadn’t started yet.
Saturday morning rolled around and I was nauseous once again – but still no real contractions or baby. I went to the big kids’ soccer games and then played some soccer in the backyard with Emma.
I decided to relax in the afternoon and evening per my doula’s advice.
Sunday I woke up to the same routine. Nausea in the morning and strong Braxton Hicks by noon. I have to say – the pattern was getting exhausting and discouraging, to say the least.
It was a rainy day and we stayed in and rested until we decided to go out for a fancy dinner with some of our best friends to get my mind off of the practice contractions. While at dinner, we enjoyed a delicious meal, lots of laughs, and my Braxton Hicks intensified even though we were simply sitting around. On the way home I started timing my contractions because they were even stronger than normal.
I went to bed around 10:00 pm and truly thought I would go into labor overnight – but once again … the surges died down and I woke up Monday morning … nauseous.
By Monday, I was frustrated … my body seemed to be READY for labor, but Baby JJ was not. I took my mind off of being pregnant by completing a personal trainer certification, renewing my CPR certification, and knocking other items off my to-do list. Monday dragged on but I knew I had a midwife appointment on Tuesday so I went to bed early and got some good rest.
Tuesday morning, my midwife came to the house for a prenatal visit. I asked Michelle to check my cervix to see if I was dilated/etc. She reported that I was up to 4 cm dilated and had a super soft cervix. It did seem that my body was ready and now it was just a matter of waiting on the baby.
After Michelle left, Brandon and I decided to do our best to kickstart real contractions. I was not super optimistic but we gave it the old college try. For two hours, we took walks, got some oxytocin flowing, ate pineapple, and tried many of the traditional ideas to get labor going. I knew that if JJ wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t go into labor, but at least the practice contractions seemed to be preparing my body for D-Day.
By the afternoon, I had strong Braxton Hicks per usual, but nothing more – ugh.
Cole had a soccer game in the evening so I relaxed in the hot tub with Emma and Lily. I was exhausted but tried to listen to my Hypnobirthing and relax a bit.
After the kids went down, I did some stretches to better position baby, thinking that maybe that would make a difference. I had felt her float up a bit after being pretty low over the previous weekend.
Around 10:00 pm we headed to bed. Exhausted, discouraged, and prepared to continue the same pattern for yet another sleepless night.
Shortly after we laid down for the evening. I felt it … at last … a REAL contraction.
Part 2: Welcoming Janel James into the World
It’s funny how the first real contraction brought forth an equal amount of fear and excitement. My heart started racing as I experienced both the feeling relief and nervousness. It was time for our first home birth!
I immediately let Brandon know that I thought I was finally having real contractions. He looked at me and said, “Call Tanya and Michelle because I don’t want to deliver this baby on my own.” I texted the girls and told them I was experiencing real contractions and they were coming fast and strong (2.5 minutes apart). Typically, Tanya will tell her clients to go to bed, get some rest, and then call her when things progress, but she knew better with me. She called me and asked me about my symptoms. I was in active labor, but I have very high pain tolerance, so we enjoyed a casual conversation. I was in high spirits. We hung up and she immediately called my midwife to start heading my way. I also contacted my mom and our videographer, Marilyn, and my birth team started making their way to the house.
By 11:15 pm my birth team was at the house. I relaxed on my bed with the peanut ball Tanya had left for me while Brandon rubbed my back. I also started sipping on some bone broth my friend made for me, to give me a bit of energy. Shortly after Tanya arrived, I asked to go in the hot tub to labor since my water hadn’t broken yet. We all walked downstairs and outside and by the time I got into the hot tub close to midnight, my contractions were starting to come much faster and stronger.
After a few minutes in the hot tub I got into a deep squat while Brandon pressed on my sacrum/lower back. If you’re a FASTer Way client, this is the same deep squat we often do to stretch and warm-up on leg day. The squat position intensified my surges significantly. I quickly turned on my Christian Hypnobirthing tracks and got into the zone. By 12:45 am, a second midwife arrived at the house and started to fill the birthing tub upstairs. My mom also arrived and woke Emma up to come outside because I was progressing quickly.
From the time my contractions started until 1:00 am, I was 120% focused and at peace during my contractions in spite of the intensity. I stayed in the zone while listening to scripture and affirmations via my app. My contractions were strong, but I knew the pain was progressing me toward seeing Baby JJ. The pain had a purpose, and I did not allow anything to distract me from my breathing exercises and positive mental state.
Around 1:15 am, my surges were coming extremely fast and I was getting no relief. I knew I was close to transition, but was not there quite yet. More scripture versus started playing on my Hypnobirthing app and I experienced a significant emotional release. I began to cry (read sob). All of the anxieties, frustrations, and challenges from this past year surfaced and it’s almost as if I felt I needed to move beyond these things in order to successfully deliver JJ. After having a good long cry for the first time in years, I felt a peace and joy come over me like never before. My doula assured me this was all normal and to let my mind and body release. After the year we’ve had, it truly felt wonderful to experience this emotional release during labor in spite of the physical pain I was still enduring.
Although I was completely in my own world and barely aware of what was happening around me, I could hear Tanya ask Michelle how the bath was coming upstairs. I knew I needed to move out of the hot tub to my bedroom. Around 1:25 am, I climbed out of the hot tub and in spite of extremely strong surges, I powered up two flights of stairs to my bedroom. I didn’t want to stop along the way because I was worried I would deliver on the stairs. I saw Emma and Cole quietly watching as I transitioned upstairs and I knew I needed to be strong and brave for them. Seeing them and changing scenery gave me a few minutes of rest from back-to-back contractions. I even asked my midwife and doula if it was ok or normal for me to be experiencing a little rest. They assured me it was normal and to enjoy it. I’m glad I took their advice because it turns out transition was right around the corner. Around the time I was enjoying a brief moment of rest, Emma came over to me and said, “Mommy what’s going on now? Why did you take your pants off?” I replied, “Well Emma I’m about to push a baby out.” This gave me a little chuckle and knowing that Emma was watching so intently was exactly what I needed to get me through what would be the most intense few minutes of my life.
At 1:35 am, only a few minutes after moving upstairs and experiencing a brief rest, my contractions started to intensify … I rested my chest and arms on the side of the birth tub and quickly started to feel nauseous. I had asked my birth team to have a bucket ready because I had thrown up immediately before transition with the three previous deliveries. Just as my midwife was getting the bucket for me I had an extremely strong contraction and urge to push. Michelle had told me that I would get to a point where I didn’t think I could do it anymore and that would be shortly before I delivered.
Whether I thought I couldn’t do it anymore or subconsciously wanted my birth team to know it was game-time, I’m not sure, but I yelled, “I can’t do this anymore.” Michelle and Tanya told me to focus on my breath and control my breath. I slowed my breathing and just then, felt an extreme urge to push…
At 1:45 am, in one single contraction, my water broke, I screamed, and pushed JJ out into my hands. It happened so fast that my midwife and doula were getting prepared for me to push. To everyone’s surprise I scooped JJ up out of the water on my own before anyone even realized I had pushed her out.
Never in my life have I felt more relief, joy, peace, and power than that very moment. JJ let out a small cry and I clutched her to my chest. Emma and Brandon looked over my shoulder at our new baby girl and it was such a special moment I will never forget. Time stopped – nothing else mattered. JJ was perfect and I felt a wave of calmness wash over me.
My midwife and doula were still trying to process the speed of the delivery and Michelle said, “Well, that was certainly the FASTer Way to deliver a baby.”
I held and nursed JJ in the tub for a while and waited for the cord to stop pulsing. Brandon cut the cord with Emma watching and then I delivered the placenta. Brandon and I transitioned to our bed and did skin-to-skin with JJ for an hour or two and I fed her before we put her down so we could all rest. My birth team cleaned up the bathroom within an hour and you would never had known there was a birth in there.
Janel James was born at 1:45 am on October 7 and was 7 pounds 2 ounces of pure perfection. Janel is my middle name and James is Brandon’s middle name, in addition to my father’s name. Her birth was the most intense, challenging, healing, and impactful experience of my life. I feel empowered in a way that I never have before. I have more love for Brandon than I thought possible. And I am profoundly in awe of the miracle of birth.
I am truly so grateful for the experience and especially the fact that Emma could be involved. While in transition, she heard me yell, “I can’t do this anymore,” and then got to watch me prove that I could, in fact, do it. I hope that JJ’s birth inspired her that she can do hard things, the female body is amazing, and the miracle of birth is just that – an absolute miracle.
I am equally grateful for the opportunity to deliver at home with Brandon by my side. The at-home and natural birth of Janel James took our relationship to the next level and increased our love and respect for each other in a way that I had never imagined. We’ve been reflecting on her birth almost daily since last week and savoring the success of our experience.
I hope you enjoyed this small glimpse into Janel’s birth. I will be sharing aspects of my postpartum journey in the coming weeks. As always, I truly appreciate your support and enthusiasm for my growing family. Blessings.