The Birth Story of Rhys Everett

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Photography by Jami Leavitt

On November 2nd, 2013 - after 2.5 days of early labor with contractions 8-10 minutes apart (thank the Lord for Benadryl which helped me sleep those three nights) - my body switched into active labor by waking me up at 8:30 a.m. with a contraction that left me gripping the bed rails.

"Whoa," I said to Jake, who was just coming out of his own slumber. "That was different."

I had spent days wondering how I would "know" when these prodromal contractions were finally turning into the real thing. Everyone had told me "you'll just know," which of course did absolutely nothing for me... but in that moment as I began to hum "Oceans" by Hillsong through the contraction's peak, I finally understood. This was it.

We timed contractions in bed for 30-45 minutes and quickly realized that contractions were gloriously consistent and strong, coming about 3 minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds to a minute long. We then called our sweet midwife, Linda, and let her know that today was looking like it might be "baby day," before texting our family and friends (and our doula) letting them know what was going on.

My parents had come into town the night before to spend the weekend (hoping I'd go into active labor while they were here, but also purposing to help me get my mind off the prodromal labor, as I was beginning to feel a little crazy waiting for labor to start), so we sent my dad to pick up Starbucks for breakfast (I knew a venti iced caramel macchiato would be my best friend during this stage of labor). In the meantime, my mom and Jake helped get the house tidied while I hopped in the shower to sing/hum through some more contractions. After the shower, I curled my hair and threw on a little bit of makeup between contractions - secretly hoping that this small amount of effort might last through to the end of labor so I didn't look like a COMPLETE hot mess (epic fail - but that's later in the story).

By noontime, contractions were staying strong and consistent, but were manageable enough that during the 2 minutes breaks I was looking for some sort of fun distraction - so true to my family style, we broke out the dominos. While they set up, I took the time to labor in the rocking chair in the nursery (the same rocker my mom rocked me in) before rejoining my family in the living room. By this time, my best friend Taylor had arrived, so she joined in and we had a lively game with frequent contraction breaks. I was a happy little laboring mama just enjoying every moment and taking one contraction at a time, knowing that each one brought my sweet boy closer to meeting me face to face!

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Before long we decided it was time for lunch, so we sent the boys to pick up some Pho (a Vietnamese soup that is not only one of my faves, but something that I figured wouldn’t be too terrible coming back up should I get nauseous later), while us ladies went on a walk around the neighborhood. While on our walk, I forced myself to walk through the contractions and stopped on the playground to do some lunges and squats, trying to spur things onwards. At this point, contractions seemed relatively the same since that morning, but with ever increasing lower back/hip pain. Wanting to avoid back labor, we headed back to the house to eat our lunch and give my chiropractor, Sonda Powell, a call.

I was bouncing on my exercise ball between contractions when Sonda picked up the phone… “Hey Sonda, It appears to be baby day!”

“Awesome! How are the contractions?”

“Well they are fairly strong, and I’m definitely getting to the point that I can’t… really…. Taaaaaalllllk….”

“Stop trying to talk and focus on your contraction – you can start talking again when it’s over.”

After about a minute. “Alright, sorry…” I went on to tell her about the hip/lower back pain, sharing that I was pretty sure I would need an adjustment sometime in the near future – but thought it could wait until we decided to head to the birth center… and then another contraction hit (only about 1 minute since the last one ended). I immediately began humming mid sentence and handed Taylor the phone.

“Hi, This is Brittany’s friend Taylor. Yeah – she can’t really talk right now…. Yeah I know, the contractions are pretty close together… They’ve been that close together for a while….You think you should come here?”

By this point I was having another short break so grabbed the phone from her. Sonda was a little shocked with how close together and strong my contractions were and asked me if I was sure I wasn’t already in transition. Emotionally, I just didn’t feel like I was “there” yet – so told her to not worry, I thought it would still be awhile (and I was right) but to go ahead and head to the house because I thought an adjustment might help move things along and make me more comfortable.

I continued to labor between the birth ball and curled up on the couch next to Jake while we popped in one of my favorite seasons of FRIENDS to distract me a bit between contractions while we waited for Sonda. I was really beginning to feel like I needed more support, so we decided to go ahead and call our doula, Jessica, too so that she could head over as well.

After Sonda and Jessica arrived, they got right to work. Sonda set up her portable table while Jessica used her fists to “walk” pressure on my hips during a contraction (this had become my favorite comfort move throughout the day, so I made sure that anyone helping me learned it quickly!). It took Sonda about 5x as long to adjust me as normal because the contractions kept coming every 2-3 minutes and I was NOT about to deal with a contraction laying flat on my back if I didn’t have to. However, after about an hour or so of adjustments, massage, myofascial release and LOTS of humming through contraction breaks, Sonda had finished working her magic.

At this point, I began to notice that my body was beginning to shake a bit both during/between contractions. It was just a mild shakiness, but it was a little unnerving to sit on the birth ball and try to relax/focus through a contraction when my legs were bouncing of their own accord underneath me… not to mention I was getting nauseous, so I decided I was ready to head to the birth center to assess where I was at and have the support/expertise of my incredible midwife team to guide me through the next parts of labor. I gave Linda, the midwife on call, a ring and let her know I was ready for her to meet us, so we made plans to meet at the birth center in about 30 minutes.

My little “hive” of worker bees (the precious souls treated me like a Queen) buzzed around me for the next 15 minutes as they filled water bottles, grabbed bags, loaded the car and double and triple checked the handy list I had printed and mounted on our fridge weeks in advance that listed everything we needed to take to the birth center with us. Before I knew it, we were loaded in the car and pulling out of our driveway – all the while realizing that when I returned to that little house of mine, I’d be holding my sweet baby in my arms rather than my tummy.

The drive to the birth center was something I had been terrified for – I had always heard that contractions in the car were nothing that even closely resembled “fun.” Fortunately, the adrenaline of the moment caused my contractions to slow down a bit and I only had to deal with about 3 contractions on our 15-minute drive that thanks to my birth playlist being loaded on my iPhone, I was able to hum through to the tune of my favorite worship tunes, and all was well with the world.

It was around 8pm when we got to the birth center. I was ready for a cervical check to see what my progress was so Linda whisked Jake and I into her office for a quick check where I learned that cervical checks whilst in labor are about 100x worse than pre-labor cervical checks (and those aren’t exactly walks in the park, lol). I had already told myself I was only going to be a 3 so I wouldn’t be disappointed if there wasn’t a lot of progress – not to mention that I just had a “sense” that this was going to be a marathon not a sprint, so expected that I still had a long road ahead.  Sure enough, after being 1cm and 90% effaced a couple days before – I was now 3cm and 100% effaced. “That’s progress,” I told myself. “And progress is good. Now let’s get to work.”

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Photography by Jami Leavitt

I labored a bit to my worship playlist in the back room with Jake and Jessica for some quiet time before some good friends stopped by the birth center to check on us. Jessica suggested that it would probably be good to get moving, so the group of us decided to go on a walk around the neighborhood. It was quite nostalgic, considering these were the people I spent my high school years with, chatting about nonsense and making up never-ending stories while laying on quilts on my parents’ concrete driveway. We chatted and laughed about pregnancy, labor, parenthood and life’s little blessings (well they chatted and I mostly threw in a chuckle here or there between contractions); and I praised the Lord for a wonderful husband with strong arms to sway into during the peaks as he held a warm rice bag against my lower back (heat was absolute heaven to my woeful hips).

Once we had finished our lap, we headed back to the birth center where I attempted to relax and labor a bit on the couch before heading into the back room to “get a little more serious,” per Jessica’s request.

***Preface: Sometimes people ask my why I chose to hire a doula when I already had such a great support team set up for my birth, not to mention that I was very educated on all things birth so had prepared myself extensively with everything from birthing positions, an essential oils kit, etc…. In fact, my doula even asked me this, because she was unsure of what I wanted her role to be (as doulas often function as a laboring momma’s supportive right hand). The reality was that, amidst all of my knowledge and preparation, I knew there was a high likelihood that I might get a little hard-headed in labor land… and my incredibly supportive, loving labor trio of my husband, mom and best friend would be so focused on the gentle love and support that I might not get the “tough love” that I would need to push me to my limits in the necessary moments. So basically I hired a doula that I knew could boss me around – and she did her job well. ;)

Jessica “encouraged” me to try 10 contractions’ worth of abdominal lifts (a crazy intense move that helps baby’s head put more pressure on the cervix) so I honed into some low-toned moans and made it happen before attempting to go on another walk, this time with my momma, around the neighborhood. It only took about 30 seconds of walking and the hair raising up on my arms to realize that the temperature had dropped far too low for a “relax-through-my-contractions” walk outside, so we decided to pace around the yoga studio (a part of the birth center) before heading back into the birthing room (the gorgeous suite with the built-in tub) and hopping back on the birth ball.

11pm hit and I was ready for another check – hoping oh-so-much that I had hit 5cm and would be able to get in the tub. I HAD! Words couldn’t describe my excitement as they began to fill the tub for me. I labored peacefully in the tub for the next couple of hours, letting each wave of contraction wash over me while my doula read some of the verses and birth affirmation cards I had made. At this point I had been in hard labor with contractions averaging 2-3 minutes apart for almost 17 hours, so I took great peace in God reminding me in 1 Corinthians that “My grace is enough – It is all that you need. My strength is made perfect in your weakness.”

Around 1am, Linda suggested I get out of the tub for a bit and lay on my side to rest during contractions on the bed. I wasn’t a huge fan of laboring in that position, but I decided to focus my energy on relaxing every muscle in my body to help my baby boy move down, while soaking up the snuggles with my husband. My worship playlist continued to play in the background and my birth team harmonized to “He Is Exalted” while I labored quietly in bed. It was a beautiful moment of worship to the Lord who was bringing me through each and every contraction.

While we labored in that “twilight” zone – Daylight savings hit. So 1:59am turned to 1am and I got to do that hour of labor all over again – except this 1am was much louder (ha!). I moved from the bed to the ball and did more abdominal lifts to encourage dilation, which led to some deep, uncontrollable moans. I was beginning to feel at this point that if I didn’t vocalize in some way during a contraction that it would overwhelm me… so I decided to embrace my inner lion and “roar” a little.  All throughout this time, my amazing birth team was doing counter pressure on my hips during every. Single. Contraction. It was the only thing that kept them manageable (and I still to this day can’t thank them enough for completely exhausting their own arms/bodies to support me).

Photography by Jami Leavitt - depicting my bestie Taylor in action filming little video clips of my birth for me to turn into my first ever birth film.

Photography by Jami Leavitt - depicting my bestie Taylor in action filming little video clips of my birth for me to turn into my first ever birth film.

By about 2:30, I was ready to get back in the tub, so labored in there for a bit before asking Linda to check me again and discovering that I was at a 7! Hooray! I assumed transition was surely upon the horizon (if not already here) and that I would be meeting my baby soon! I spent the next 4ish hours going from laboring in the tub to a standing sway to backwards on the toilet to the birth ball, riding the incredibly intense waves of labor (the break between contractions was getting shorter and shorter) and waiting for an urge to push to hit signaling that I had reached second stage. I remember at one point telling my husband that between the nausea and the shakes and the seemingly never-ending contractions (thanks to only 10-20 second breaks in between) that this was surely transition, except I had yet to feel the “self-doubt” that our Bradley method classes had taught us to expect. I thought to myself that I just must be confident enough in myself that I wasn’t going to have those feelings. (Ha! Little did I know…)

Around 6:30am, I decided to let Linda check me again, sure that I was going to be at least a 9, if not a 10 – only to find I was still at a 7. Womp, womp. At this point, she encouraged Jake and I to have some alone time to try various things to speed up labor (nipple stimulation with the breast pump, kissing, etc.)… so the crew cleared out to grab breakfast while Jake tried to get me to strategize. But I just. Couldn’t. do it. I was EXHAUSTED and kept falling asleep during contractions, thinking to myself “if these could just stop for long enough for me to go home and take a really long nap, I can come back later and finish.” It was the crazy inside of me thinking that was possible… but sleep was all I could think about. After a good 15 minutes of putting off Jake’s suggestions with a “I don’t know… Just ask me after the next contraction,” I finally resolved to beg for the crazy.

“…Can you… just ask Linda… if I could maybe… try to… rest for a little bit?”

My sweet husband humored my crazy and asked, and my glorious Linda obliged; so I curled up in a perfect spoon with my handsome hero and tried my very best to rest. In the moment, I felt like contractions slowed down to about 8-10 minutes apart-- which my husband later informed me was incorrect, that they stayed steady at about 2-3 minutes apart-- but I was able to sleep in between. Sure, each contraction woke me to the point I was gripping the sheets, but I would keep my eyes closed and breathe through the peak and let my consciousness fade right alongside the contraction.

Sunlight began to peek through the windows around 8am, and with it I felt a renewed energy. I crawled off the bed, parked it on the birth ball, and requested that someone bring me a bagel. Unfortunately, the mild nausea I had been experiencing periodically throughout my labor reared its ugly head and I only got about two bites into the bagel before I knew I couldn’t continue. I asked someone to grab the lovely bucket that had been made available to me for nausea purposes, but couldn’t actually throw up (even though I desperately wanted to for relief)… So finally gave up and just resigned myself to not eating much until this shindig was over.

Not long after “breakfast,” my midwife chatted with me a bit about how we could get things to move forward, delicately suggesting that we might try to artificially rupture my membranes (known as AROM in the medical world). This was not part of my original birth plan (As it can increase the risk of infection… and I thought delivering a baby born in the caul sounded SO cool) – but at this point, I was open to just about anything.

“Will it make him get here faster?” I asked with hope and just an edge of desperation.

“Most likely,” Linda replied. “But things will also get a lot more intense.”

I didn’t really think that was possible at this point, but quipped “Bring it on” in response.

Around 9:30am, I reclined onto the bed while Linda checked me (I was still a 7) and then grabbed what can be best described as large crochet hook, and proceeded in an attempt to break my water. Except it wasn’t that easy, and it took about three tries (apparently Rhys’ amniotic sac was crazy strong). However with just a little extra effort, she succeeded and I proceeded to feel like the contents of an entire hot tub were falling out of me in small gushes with each contraction. It was a truly strange sensation, but was oddly comforting, so I proceeded to pull on a pair of those glorious mesh undies along with a pad to help soak up the hot tub water and began to ride an emotional high of feeling like birth was FINALLY on its way to really happening.

At this point, I needed a change in musical pace, so I asked Jake to switch to my “upbeat” playlist which consisted of an eclectic combination of 80’s/90’s hip hop and Broadway show tunes. I stood up, letting my hips sway and dance to the rhythm of each song, and at one point even began to tap dance when the Newsies soundtrack played. I was energized and ready to rock and roll and welcomed the incredibly strong and forceful contractions that came as a result of the lack of cushion-y water between Rhys’ head and my cervix.

Before I knew it, I was being rocked my contraction after contraction with NO break… (it was at this point that I told Jake between peaks in the bathroom that “I know why I did this, and I know I’m going to be happy in the end I did it this way… but all I keep thinking in this moment is why in the heck didn’t I go to the hospital and just get the darned epidural”… Hello transition!) and despite the extra pressure from Rhys’ head, no progress either… So sometime between 12-1pm, my midwife suggested that I move to the bed to do a series of laboring positions on each side, with a large “peanut ball” positioned between my legs. (Linda had begun to suspect that Rhys was asynclintic in addition to the perceived posterior positioning based on my back labor and had seen good success with the peanut ball enabling the pelvic to open in such a way that baby can turn/straighten out/descend.) I’m not going to lie… this position felt pretty much like torture. (Laboring on your back or even side is typically not fun, which is why I always encourage pre-epidural mamas at the hospital to move around a little when things pick up). My hips felt like they were wrenching apart and I just couldn’t get “on top” of the contractions to relax enough to feel relief (tensing up during contractions makes the sensation of discomfort much worse). Fortunately, I had a team of what seemed like literal angels surrounding me (I literally did think that the assistant midwife who had arrived sometime while I was completely in my birth zone was an actual angel, as her presence was so calming and she just had this angelic look to her) in those moments of weakness, coaching me through every wave and double peak, encouraging me that I could do this, and this was bringing my baby closer. It helped during this time that I did begin to feel a little “pushy,” with just the slightest sensation of the pressure I had been told to expect when baby was close… and I was infinitely encouraged by sensing some obvious change. After 30 minutes on each side, Linda checked me again, and sure enough I was almost completely dilated, with only a little bit of an anterior cervical lip.

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Photography by Jami Leavitt

“Are you okay with me holding this back for you during your next contraction?” she asked.

At this point, there was no “next contraction” just one seemingly never-ending wave which rose and fell a little and then rose again, so I simply let out a loud “yeeesssss” moan as the next peak built and she went to work. Within seconds, I felt relief, and Linda announced that I was complete and ready to push.

“Fill the tub back up,” I announced, with a mixture of relief and sheer determination.

But the midwives and my doula both hesitated. They knew how exhausted I was, and were unsure if the lack of gravity in the water would be the best thing to assist me in pushing. I understood their concern (well at least in retrospect I do) – but there was this strong sense of confidence that my body/baby knew what I needed. And what I needed was the warm embrace of that water. They trusted my instincts (with a promise from me that if it wasn’t effective I would get out) and began to fill the tub (which included my sister in law boiling hot water on the stove because the hot water tank was almost depleted) while I did some practice pushes on the birth stool.  Within about 15 minutes, the soothing warmth of the tub was ready for me, and I swung each leg over the side with gusto as I eased myself down into the water. (It was at this point that Jake walked back in from taking a short lunch break… He had just sat down to eat a sandwich in the living/waiting area of the birth center when the news of my “complete” announcement made its way to him. He proceeded to wolf down the rest of his sub before joining me again at my side. After the fact, he told me that I looked like Rocky Balboa, ready for a fight, as I got into the tub.)

Everything from there sort of melted together. I proceeded to push in a myriad of positions to find what felt comfortable/effective and finally settled into a position on my knees, with my elbows pressed onto either side of the tub, lifting my body up just slightly each time I pushed. This point of labor was exactly as I had envisioned it… no coaching, no counting, noone spreading my legs and getting all up in my business…. Just me listening to my body and my baby and doing what I could FEEL worked. There was absolutely no pain in these moments, and since my contractions had almost instantly spaced back out to a 3-5 minutes apart, I was able to laugh and joke between waves with my midwives and my mom and Jake, who were both faithfully by my side. I had made special red raspberry leaf tea and honey ice cubes for energy/uterine efficiency during this time, but quickly discovered that they were too big to crunch on my own, so my sweet momma bird would bite them into smaller chunks and spoon feed them to me between pushes (we are Lorelei + Rory close). At one point, I do remember getting a little discouraged about what exactly I was working towards, jokingly, but semi-seriously asking my midwife, “Are you sure there’s a baby in there? Because I really feel like I’m doing all of this work and all I’m going to do is take a big dump at the end of all of this.” (She assured me this wasn’t the case.) And, to what I thought would be my absolute horror, but ended up being NBD (no big deal)… I totally pooped a little during my first few pushes in the tub, and decided in my own pride/self-sufficiency that it was only appropriate for ME to scoop out and dispose of the little terdlets with the provided mini goldfish net. My midwife died laughing, saying she had never before in her 30-year career have a mom take care of her own feces in this moment… but in the moment, it just felt right to me, lol! (Side note: I am generally very private about this sort of bodily function, but in an effort to show complete transparency am including this part of my story…. Because I feel like SO many woman are afraid of this, and in reality it really DOESN’T MATTER. Most of the time, you aren’t even aware it’s happening – and neither are the support people you’ve chosen to be alongside you at your birth. I’ve captured roughly 25 births in the past year and half as a birth photographer and have yet to see it happen “first-hand” once, even though I know it has. Health professionals are so used to dealing with those moments discretely and with grace/class… so don’t stress!)

Within about 15 minutes of pushing in the tub (so roughly 30 minutes of pushing total), I began to feel a slight stretching sensation down below, and knew he was LOW. I reached down and felt his head, and announced to my midwife, “He’s right there.” She quickly grabbed her little flashflight and confirmed what I already knew. Within minutes, his entire head was crowning as I closed my eyes and just focused on the intense, but amazing sensation coming from my body. I remember Linda and Elizabeth (the assistant midwife) encouraging me with the biggest smiles on their faces that everything was stretching just like it needed to and he was SO close… which I knew from the sensations had to be true, but my inner psyche still didn’t fully believe that I was going to really have a baby in my arms in a few moments… so when I felt the “ejection reflex” as his head shot out, I let out a small shriek, not from pain, but of utter shock that we were actually at this point.

Just one little push later, I heard Linda telling Jake “here… grab your boy,” and I opened my eyes to exclaim “Hi Rhys!” just as Jake brought him up out of the water and onto my chest at 2:40pm.

The relief and “birth high” was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. He came out of the water literally screaming bloody murder and bright pink from the moment his head broke the surface, and I remember thanking God, as I had prayed this little man would have no troubles pinking up and catching his first breath QUICKLY. In that moment, the world stopped spinning, and I was simply living in sheer bliss, aware of only my husband’s loving, teary gaze and the sweet baby boy on my chest. I had never felt more relieved or grateful. Looking down, I saw the sweetest little hand clinging to the necklace where I wore my wedding rings and the "Micah" charm I had gotten for our sweet angel baby we had lost the previous Fall… and was so overwhelmed by God's goodness that my heart and voice began to quietly sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" (the hymn we chose for Rhys during my pregnancy) over him as I gently rocked him in the tub. I will never forget the moment that I realized my voice wasn't alone, but that everyone in the room had joined in harmony with me, praising God for His faithfulness.

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Photography by Jami Leavitt

Truly, there had never been a moment where I had been more aware of that truth… and as I sit here feeling another sweet baby boy kicking inside of me, I cannot wait to see how the Lord manifests himself in blessing and provision over this next birth. I am excited, I am expectant. Happy birthday sweet Rhys… and we can’t wait to welcome you little Silas. The Lord is good.