The Day Before
On the morning of Tuesday, January 11th, 2022, I woke up feeling tired and a little disappointed that I still hadn’t gone into labor yet. After weeks of feeling like I was ready to have this baby, I kept going to bed anticipating that maybe labor would start, and then I would drift off to sleep a little frustrated that I didn’t seem to be any closer to meeting my baby.
I had hoped and prayed that labor would start on the night of January 10th so that I wouldn’t have to go to my midwife appointment in Roanoke the next morning, but my baby and my body obviously had other plans. I was 41 weeks 3 days pregnant and our midwife Degra requires her clients to have a biophysical ultrasound scan at 42 weeks. So, we had gone ahead and scheduled the biophysical to be done that morning in Roanoke with Ultrasound America at 10 a.m. I am not a morning person by any means, especially because I have a really hard time going to bed early, so I was not looking forward to getting up early and then having to drive an hour to Roanoke, have an ultrasound, and then a prenatal appointment right after that.
Another reason I felt so disappointed that morning was because I had chosen to not get any ultrasounds during this pregnancy, unless it was medically necessary, and it seemed frustrating that I had made it to 41+ weeks and THEN had to get an ultrasound. In a sense I felt like a failure because I was agreeing to something I really didn’t want. At this point in my pregnancy I was losing the drive to advocate for myself and my baby. But, I told myself that at this point a quick ultrasound wasn’t the worst thing I could be agreeing to.
So, we drove the long drive to Roanoke. I was tired, I felt bad that Brendan was taking time away from working to come with me, and I also felt bad to drag Ellis along to the visit because I knew that was asking a lot of a 3 year-old.
Our ultrasound appointment lasted about 30 minutes or so, and the actual scan of the baby didn’t even take that long. Everything was looking good, baby was healthy and in a good position. Then after we made a quick coffee run to Starbucks we went to our very last prenatal appointment with Degra. We checked on the baby’s heart tones (all was looking good) and we talked about different methods of “natural” induction.
It felt surreal to even be talking about induction. Ellis was born at 39 weeks 5 days and I fully believed that this baby would come a bit early too, or at least come by 40 weeks. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would go past 41 weeks. Degra said that we needed to have a game plan in case we did need to kick start labor, so we went over all the options. At this point Degra said that the baby was healthy and looking good, so she wasn’t saying I had to try induction, but she wanted me to know what I wanted to do moving forward. If I hadn’t had the baby by that Friday then we would see Degra again at another prenatal appointment.
Most of the methods of induction didn’t sit well with me, but again I found myself agreeing to things I knew I didn’t want. Degra wasn’t pushing me to do any of the methods of induction, but I felt that I was running out of time. My biggest thought was that I would rather do some form of “natural” induction over having to go to the hospital, so I found myself saying I would consider things like a membrane sweep even though that’s not what I wanted at all.
During the weeks leading up to this appointment I had been drinking red raspberry leaf tea and eating dates daily, I had been going on long walks, and we had even been intimate in the hopes that labor would kick into gear. All of these were good for my body and helped get baby into a good and healthy position, but I knew that despite my best efforts baby was not going to come until baby was ready.
The method I felt most comfortable with and that I told Degra I was open to was using herbs to try and kick start labor. The herbal tinctures that were suggested were Ginger Root tincture, Black Cohosh tincture, and Blue Cohosh tincture. So I got the Ginger Root tincture at the local co-op in Roanoke and I ordered the other two for pick-up at Health Nut Nutrition in Lynchburg.
We headed back home and got back around 2 p.m. Brendan jumped back into work and Ellis and I just spent the afternoon hanging out together.
I felt so exhausted that day. I made a late lunch and sat in a patch of sunshine on the sunroom floor and ate. I don’t remember what else I did that afternoon besides going to Health Nut to pick up my tinctures I ordered between 4:30-5p.m.
I went to the store by myself and left the boys at home. On the drive back home I was listening to Christian music such as “Scars in Heaven” by Casting Crowns and the song “It is Well” and I cried. I was still feeling the weight of losing Maw and the many mixed emotions I had surrounding this pregnancy and upcoming labor. The sky was so pretty that evening and I was beginning to feel a shift.
However, I still felt I was floating in limbo. Neither here, nor there. Sort of half-way between worlds; somewhat present but at the same time, drifting closer and closer to labor land. Other mamas will understand and know what I’m talking about.
I got home and knew that I needed to start cooking dinner, but I was weary and dinner was really the last thing on my mind. The boys were resting on the couch together and I was kind of hoping that Brendan would suggest we just pick something up for dinner. But, I reluctantly made my way to the kitchen to put a pot of water on to boil for some pasta.
By this time I was feeling really uncomfortable and I was occasionally feeling some tightness in my belly. I mentioned it to Brendan at one point and he felt my belly and said that I was probably having surges. I had thought the same thing, but it wasn’t painful or intense so I thought that if anything it was just a practice surge. I told myself there was no way that it could be the real deal.
We sat in the living room while we ate dinner and watched something on tv, but I can’t remember what we put on. I remember thinking a lot about Maw and how one of the meals we frequently had together when I was in college was pasta. Maw always had pasta noodles and jars of tomato and Alfredo sauce in her pantry. She would fix that along with a salad and some garlic bread that she made and kept in the freezer. A simple, cheap meal that now holds so many rich, sweet memories for me. As I sat there on the couch feeling so tired, I thought of all the conversations we had over those warm bowls of pasta and I found myself wishing I could have one more dinner with Maw.
I can’t remember what I did from the time Ellis went to bed to about 10:30p.m.
This is it
There were a few times over those last couple of weeks that I would start having some practice surges in the evenings. They would usually last until I laid down and went to bed, and then they would taper off. So I assumed the same thing was happening this time around and I really didn’t want to get my hopes up.
Brendan went to bed around 11:30 p.m. or so, and I came back downstairs. I planned on sitting down with my cup of Nighty Night tea and watching an episode of “The Office” like I normally do before going up to bed. Around 12:15 a.m. I started noticing that I was having surges, but just like in times past I expected them to die down when I went to bed.
Before when I had practice contractions I was able to ignore them pretty easily when I was doing chores, sitting on the birth ball, or watching tv. But as I was tidying up a tad before sitting down with my cup of tea, I realized that I was getting irritated and the surges weren’t that easy to ignore. I decided then that I would message Mom, Alli, Ella, and Cori (my go-to ladies and support system) and let them know how I was feeling, but didn’t know if it would amount to anything. Cori (our photographer) responded and I told her I was going to watch some tv before bed, and that I’d let her know if anything changed.
As I sat on the couch with my tea in hand, I realized that I wasn’t able to ignore these surges. I decided that I would time a few of the them, just to see how far apart they were. At 12:35a.m. I had a surge and then again at 12:44 a.m., 12:48 a.m., 12:52 a.m. and so on. They were lasting about a minute and were roughly 4 minutes apart then, but they weren’t intense and then they would space out a bit. By then I was starting to accept that maybe this could be the real deal. I decided that what I needed to do at that point was get to bed and try and get some rest in case things started to pick up.
Right before I was about to head upstairs, I walked into the office and saw how brightly the moon was shining through the window. I felt like it was a sign that something was going to happen.
Before laying down I decided to text the doulas to let them know that I was having some surges but didn’t know if they would amount to anything. I told them I was going to bed to get some rest and I would check back in to let them know if things started to progress. I didn’t wake Brendan up to tell him I was having surges because I wanted him to rest while he was able to. It was a little after 1 a.m. when I finally laid down to try and get some sleep. I remember that the thought of laying down seemed like it would be super uncomfortable to me.
Surges continued but I was able to doze off for a bit. Then a little after 2 a.m. I woke up to an intense surge that seemed to come out of no where. I had to really focus on breathing through it and then I felt some sort of internal pop. This time I woke Brendan up and had him help me up. I had thought that the pop I felt might have been my waters releasing, but when I got up to go to the bathroom I saw that it was just some bloody show, so I’m not sure exactly what I felt while I was still laying in the bed.
While in the bathroom, I filled Brendan in on when my surges had started and how far apart they had been. I was still having them in the bathroom and they seemed to be coming frequently and were quickly growing in intensity. Brendan got the app open on his phone and started timing them.
All of a sudden it seemed I had gone from moderate cramping to intense surges! I could no longer deny that I was in labor, but I still didn’t know where I was at in the process or when I should have the birth team come. Thankfully, Brendan was well aware of how I was doing and how quickly things seemed to be progressing, so he knew it was time to call the midwife and alert everyone else that planned to be there.
Call in the Birth Team!
Brendan stepped out of the bathroom to call Degra and let her know how I was doing and that it was probably time for her to head over. That was at 2:15 a.m.
About 15 minutes later, at 2:30 a.m., Brendan also texted the doulas, my mom, and Cori. Morgan (our doula) said that she was on her way. Brendan actually stepped out of the bathroom a second time and called my Dad. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a hold of my parents, but thankfully they both had their phones on. Brendan told my mom that we didn’t need her help with Ellis at the moment because he was asleep, but that if mom wanted to be here when the baby was born she should probably head out soon.
After Brendan notified the birth team things start blurring together for me. I knew that everyone was on their way but I don’t recall much else besides that. I had been laboring in the bathroom leaning against the sink and breathing/blowing very hard each time I had a surge. At one point the thought crossed my mind that I should probably move to another room or position to try something different, but I had found my rhythm and didn’t want to lose it.
The surges seemed to be coming strong and fast, one on top of the other. At this point they were already about 4 minutes apart. I wanted Brendan at my side for every single contraction. He was doing hip squeezes and I was also having him apply counter pressure to my lower back for each contraction. We were pretty cramped in the bathroom and I knew Brendan didn’t have that much space to help me, so at some point we decided to move to the bedroom.
When we moved to the bedroom I had Brendan help me change into the “labor outfit” I had picked out. I wanted to wear something pretty and that I felt confident and cute in, especially since I was having pictures taken this time. I put on my pretty blue/green nursing bra, my pink animal print drawstring pants and my robe.
Morgan arrived first since she lives the closest. It was 2:50 a.m. when she came up to our room.
At that point I was laboring at the foot of the bed. With each surge I would kind of rock and move through the pressure and I would rise up on my toes and breathe really strongly, exhaling and blowing forcefully. I don’t exactly know why I started laboring this way, but I was trying not to get in my head and just flow with what felt right in my body. Looking back it seems a bit silly, but it helped me cope with the intensity of each surge and helped me move through each one with control and power.
Brendan was still applying counter pressure for me and after each surge I would lean over onto the pillows I had stacked at the foot of the bed. Morgan jumped in at one point and helped with counter pressure and hip squeezes. Immediately I could tell the difference! While Brendan’s hands felt more familiar and safe, Morgan’s hands felt more skilled and knowledgable. I welcomed the different sensation and was grateful that Brendan could rest and have a little break.
Around 3:15 a.m. I think Brendan suggested I do a bathroom break since it had been a while since I had gone pee. I forgot to go to the bathroom throughout Ellis’ labor and that ended up causing issues, so we knew this time it was important to stay on top of that.
I really don’t remember going to the bathroom then. But I know I was wanting to get back to the bedroom and to the foot of the bed again.
By 3:21 a.m. Degra had arrived and was getting her stuff all set up in the room. Midwife Leslie had also arrived and was there to act as Degra’s assistant. Mom and Cori arrived right around the same time as well. Degra tried to listen to the baby’s heart tones for a couple minutes, but each time I had a surge and would lean over she had a hard time getting a good reading. So, around 3:50 a.m. she asked me to lay in the bed so she could get a better listen.
Again, this is one of those times where I was in labor land already and it’s a bit hazy for me. I remember being in the bed, but don’t really recall Degra asking me to get there and I don’t really remember anyone helping me up or anything.
Laboring in bed on my back, even for just those few minutes, was really uncomfortable though. I just kept my eyes closed and focused on my breath, which is what I had been doing the whole time. I was aware of how strange my belly felt and how lopsided it looked. This suggested that the baby was possibly in a funky position.
Before I had laid down in the bed, I remember thinking that the surges were just coming SO FAST. I didn’t know how long I could handle them coming so quickly at that intensity and thought to myself,“if I can just catch a break in between and get a little rest then I will be okay”. But I was a little nervous because I didn’t know how much longer I had to go at that point.
After Degra checked the heart tones, I remember hearing her say that if the baby didn’t move after awhile then we might need to try walking up and down the stairs to try and get baby into a better position. I felt like I was in such a dream-like state at that point and Degra sounded so far away. Internally I groaned because walking up and down the stairs sounded like the last thing I wanted to do, because I knew it would make the surges more intense.
I knew I wanted to rest, and apparently I was able to communicate that well enough to my birth team. Degra told me to rest if I could, and then she would check back in and we would go from there. I rolled over to my left side and Morgan stuffed pillows in between my legs to help keep my hips open and around me to help me get comfortable.
I was aware that Mom and Cori were in the room at that point and I told Mom she could come over and say “Hi”. I don’t remember what we said to each other, but I felt comforted by her presence. She brushed my hair with her hand for a bit before she and Cori left the room to let me get a bit of rest.
I didn’t want to deal with surges while lying down because it made them feel 10x more intense, I just wanted to rest so I tried to focus on breathing through each one I felt. A birth affirmation that I had on my wall came to mind while I was lying there, “allow, release, let it go”. I really tried to stay relaxed through each surge and not tense up like I had done during Ellis’ labor, and I did that by coming back to my breath.
By 4:24 a.m. I was sleeping and not really waking during the surges. I never opened my eyes, just breathed heavily and focused on blowing. I didn’t know who all was in the room with me, but I was aware that Brendan was laying in bed behind me applying counter pressure and reassuring touch. And I thought that Morgan was either beside me or at the foot of the bed.
In my dreamy state I heard somebody ask about where they could go to lay down and rest. And I roused myself enough to mention that there were extra clean blankets on the chest freezer down in the basement. That’s me, always worried about others and making sure everything is taken care of in the house, even during labor.
Apparently, the midwives were just about to go down the stairs to go rest for a bit when they could hear and tell that things were about to pick up the pace.
I was still laying in the bed when I felt another surge coming, and I could tell it was going to be a bit more intense. This time at the peak of it my body started to bare down and I involuntarily grunted. In my head I was feeling a little bewildered, there was no way my body could be pushing already!
Morgan was so sweet and encouraging saying “I like the sound of that!”. A minute later the midwives made their way back into the bedroom to check on me. This was at around 4:50 a.m.
To The Bathroom
After laboring in bed a few more minutes and the midwives checking on me we decided that a bathroom break would be a good idea. Degra wanted me to sit down on the toilet so that she could check baby’s heart tones but I couldn’t relax enough to fully sit down. I was dreading it, because lying down or sitting made the surges come in full force!
At 5:07 a.m. I was still hovering over the toilet, trying my best to relax and NOT have a surge so Degra could get a good heart tone reading. When a surge would come I just felt like I needed to poop, not really like I needed to push. I’ve heard that this is a good sign that things are really moving along, but I had never experienced this feeling while I was in labor with Ellis, so this was all new to me.
During all of this, I was starting to really zone out and head deep into labor land. Morgan had put up some fairy lights in the bathroom and the soft glow was so warm and comforting. I was staring up and into space, practicing non-focused awareness and trying my best to breathe deeply and fully. I started nodding my head as a coping mechanism and repeating affirmations to myself. I knew that the next surge I would have was going to be hard.
After telling Degra I felt like I just needed to poop, she decided to reach down and check me and discovered that the baby’s head was starting to crown! I was in complete disbelief that I was this far along. At this point there were 5 of us crammed into our tiny little bathroom, with Cori and my Mom just right outside the bathroom door. I started to think that I might birth this baby right there over the toilet in the bathroom!
Since we had very limited space in the bathroom, Degra wanted to get me back to the bedroom. Hearing that made me want to laugh — how in the world was I going to get back to the bedroom while crowning?! In reality, the bedroom was only about 5-10 feet away from the bathroom, but in that moment it might as well have been 5-10 miles away. That was at 5:13 a.m..
Back to the Bedroom
With the help of Brendan and my birth team, I made the trek across the hall back to the bedroom. I remember reaching out for mom’s hand as I passed by her. Once I got back to the bedroom I paused at the foot of the bed to rest and collect myself. Degra wanted me to get back up in the bed, but I needed a minute.
By 5:18 a.m. the birth team had helped me back up onto the bed. I was on hands and knees and honestly I was just so blown away that I was at this point in labor already.
This was such a sacred window of time. I vividly remember feeling like I needed to tune everyone else out for a moment and talk to my baby. During Ellis’ labor, I never talked to him. I had read about the amazing benefits of communicating and connecting with your baby in labor, but I guess I felt too silly to do that. This time around, I didn’t overthink, I just followed my instinct.
I told baby that we were so close, and I asked baby to slow down and work with me. I needed a few minutes, I knew that, so I communicated that to baby. And according to Morgan, there was a solid 5 minutes with no surges! There in the bed, in between worlds, I felt Maw so close to me. I told baby not to worry, that Maw was here with us helping us, and that we were going to be okay. We had waited so long for this. I felt peace wash over me and had renewed strength. I was ready.
Morgan whispered softly to me and said, “You’re doing so good. You’ve got this, Mama! You’re so close to having this baby”, and I said in response, “I can’t believe I’m this close.”. I asked Morgan,“When did I even go through transition?”, and she shrugged and said, “In your sleep when you were laying here, that one grunt-y contraction you had before you went to the bathroom.”. We laughed at that, but I was really in disbelief!
That window of space felt so long, but not in a bad way. I wasn’t in pain or discomfort. I asked if it was normal to have a break in surges like this and Degra assured me it was. I truly think that I didn’t believe I was so close to the end. Degra even had to remind me that if I had another surge I could bear down. I said “I can?”, and Degra replied, “Yes, baby’s head is right there!”. I said it didn’t feel like the baby’s head was right there, and Degra told me I could reach down and feel if I wanted to. Reaching down and in to feel my baby’s head was so wild! I never got a chance to feel that when I was in labor with Ellis.
At 5:25a.m. I had one strong surge and baby’s head was born! Baby was in such a good position, pursing his little lips. Degra removed the sac from baby’s face as I asked if everything was fine. Everyone assured me that things were great! I asked if someone could help me catch baby when it was time. I didn’t get to catch Ellis when he was born, and I was determined to catch my baby this time.
Baby’s head stayed out for 2 minutes before I had another surge, with no concern from the midwives. He stayed halfway between world and womb in the most loving, safe, and calm environment. I kept my hand on his head the whole time, and it was the strangest most magical feeling I have ever felt in my life.
When the next surge came I felt like I had pretty good control and was focused on my breathing. Degra gave me a verbal nudge to really push, and one big push later baby came flying out into my hand. Degra helped me catch baby since I was still on hands and knees and she passed him right to me between my legs. Baby cried right away!
Lennox Archer O’Malley Smith was born at 5:27 a.m. on Wednesday, January 12th, 2022.
I couldn’t believe it. I had waited so long to hold this sweet boy. I cradled his warm, slippery body in my arms as he cried, such a good strong cry. I said “We did it! Wow.”, and then asked what time it was, and again I was in disbelief at just how fast he had come!
The placenta was born at about 5:45 a.m. with no complications. Brendan cut the umbilical cord around 6:08 a.m. and just a couple minutes later, at 6:10 a.m. Lennox latched and breastfed for the very first time.
It all felt so sacred. I couldn’t believe that I had such a beautiful, intense, but relatively easy labor and birth. After such a long, hard pregnancy, I was beginning to think labor might be the same. But it was the complete opposite.
The First Few Hours
As soon as Lennox was out and in my arms I felt immediate relief. Just knowing that I wasn’t pregnant anymore made me want to cry sweet tears of joy.
When I gave birth to Ellis I had an episiotomy and had to have stitches. But this time around the midwives said I didn’t really tear, and that if I promised to stay in bed and rest for 5 days they didn’t think I would need any stitching or interventions of the sort.
That was huge for me, because two things I really wanted during this home birth were 1) I wanted to catch my baby and, 2) I didn’t want to tear.
The plan was to have Ellis be present and in the room when I was about to have the baby, but labor ended up going much faster than I anticipated and since Ellis was sleeping so soundly, I didn’t want to wake him up.
So a little after 7 a.m. Ellis woke up and got to come in and meet his baby brother for the very first time! That was such a special moment for me, holding both of my sweet boys together and seeing the wonder on Ellis’ face. He loved his little brother so much already!
After the birth team got us all cleaned up and settled in bed, everyone went downstairs to eat and give me, Brendan and our baby some space. Our birth team and my mom were amazing, bringing us food and anything else we needed. My first meal after giving birth was scrambled eggs and Ezekiel toast.
Another one of the wonderful midwives who attended the birth, Danielle, performed Lennox’s newborn exam a little after 9 a.m. Thats one of the many many things I LOVE about home birth — the birth team really honors that sacred window of “The Golden Hour”, giving mama and baby time to bond skin-to-skin and establish breastfeeding during the first hour after birth. Also, there’s just something so magical about mama and daddy being able to hold their baby and get to know them first before a bunch of other people have handled them.
I was excited for Brendan to get to weigh Lennox during the exam. I knew that this baby was bigger than Ellis had been, and we were all estimating that he would be around 7 pounds, maybe. My mouth fell open when Brendan held him up in the scale and the number read 8 lbs 7oz! Almost a whole two pounds heavier than Ellis had been. So Lennox was 8lbs 7oz and 21 inches long.
Ellis and my mom were in the room to watch the newborn exam and I just loved that they got to be a part of that.
After the newborn exam my mom helped me clean up a bit more. Since I was on hands and knees when I gave birth, my feet got baptized in blood and birthy liquids. So my mom literally bent down and washed my feet for me. Talk about a picture of humbling yourself and serving your children. That was a moment that really stands out to me.
I don’t recall exactly when everyone finally left, but I think it was afternoon. Degra had suggested that my parents take Ellis out for the afternoon/evening so that me and Brendan could get some much needed rest. So, my dad got off of work early and he and my mom took Ellis to their house for the afternoon to get some special time with them. That was such a relief to me and I so appreciated my parents’ help.
For the rest of the day Brendan and I got to rest and soak in our sweet baby boy. My parents brought Ellis back after 7 p.m., he had fallen asleep on the way back home.
After my parents left, we settled down in our room, which I called the “Mother Nest”, and had our special Birth Day dinner that I had prepped ahead of time and put in the freezer. We had spinach lasagna rolls and then for Lennox’s birth day cake we had a very special homemade cheesecake that my dear friend Sarah had made and brought to me for Christmas. I had put it in the freezer with the intention to save it for Lennox’s special day.
We snuggled up in the bed as a family and watched “The Office” before going to sleep for the night.
One of my greatest fears surrounding this labor and birth was that I would end up being alone. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically. But I had the most beautiful, healing home birth just like I had envisioned and I felt so loved and held by everyone who was there with me that morning. I even felt held by Maw, which meant the world to me.
It has taken me a whole year to deeply process my birth with Lennox. If I’m being honest, I’m still processing my pregnancy and postpartum with him. My story with Lennox goes so much deeper than what I written here, and that is why it has taken so long to even share this.
Pregnancy was extremely difficult due to circumstances I had no control over or say in, and postpartum was the same way. But his birth was a beautiful, sacred window of healing light and empowerment. Bookended by loss and heartbreak, shedding and growth, this birth healed me in places I didn’t know were broken. I am forever grateful for that and so proud of myself for the hard work I have done.
I am extremely grateful for my wonderful support team who showed up for me, not only on the morning of his birth, but during the difficult weeks leading up to his birth when I lost Maw, and the long days postpartum stepping into my new role as of mother of two.
If you have made it this far, I want to say “thank you” for reading and sharing in the joy of this beautiful day with me.
*Photos by Cori Michelle Photography