This birth story and photos wouldn’t be possible without my amazing doula, Ashley. Thank you for all you did throughout my pregnancy, labor and postpartum time. We are forever grateful for you!
For years I’ve been fascinated by reading other’s birth stories. Every time I read one I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever get to write one myself and it feels quite surreal and daunting now that I have the opportunity. Perhaps it’s the new mommy fatigue or possibly just the pressure of wanting to share the story as accurately and interestingly, as possible, but it was a sweet process to compile all the details.
Like most type A people, I had a birth plan. I had been authoring that plan for the better part of a decade- foolishly thinking that it would come to fruition on the big day. Sure, I had been verbalizing to my OB, my doula, my hubby and myself for months that “it’s just a plan.. it’s Plan A, how I would like it to look if I’m actually in control, but I know it may not go quite like that….”, but of course I was hopeful it would unfold according “to plan”. Well if that was plan A, I think Plan G is probably somewhere closer to the reality of what unfolded. And I’m really happy to say I’m 100% at peace with that.
I’m not sure why, but I had a lot of ideas/desires of how, where, when, why, what, etc. for Joy’s birth. I wanted her to be born in May (with a due date of 5/25 and measuring slightly ahead during the pregnancy, that was realistic, right?), weigh less than 8 pounds, come on her own (I was very fearful of being induced… somehow thinking an induction would likely end to a C-section) and honestly, the list went on. I can see now that most of the things I wanted were pretty silly… who cares if she is a May or a June baby?! But in the moment or specifically the final 2 weeks-ish of carrying her, I cared. I just wanted so desperately to control something, realizing more and more each day that I was truly in control of little to nothing and she would come whenever God said it was time. That being said, I sure did try to speed things along (see the photo below from Memorial Day weekend)- from spicy foods, eggplant parm, walking, dates, sex, raspberry leaf tea and even some woo-woo herbal blend.. I tried it all. I basically stopped shy of castor oil because.. yeah, no.
On June 1st I sat in my therapist’s office (screenshot above is me booking the appointment) in complete disbelief that this baby hadn’t come yet. We agreed I would work on getting to a state of true relaxation, meditating on scripture and getting to a place of peace where the stress I was feeling could hopefully fade away. I recognized my stressed state truly wasn’t favorable for my my body to go into labor so I went home and for the first time in my life felt like I truly meditated. I spend a lot of time in daily prayer, especially in the morning, but I’m often distracted and certainly not in a state of complete relaxation. This time was different. I picked a few short scriptures and began repeating them out loud until I basically drifted off into an almost sleep. “You are fighting my battles for me, I only need to be still”, “I will fear not, for you are with me“, My times are in Your hands…”. The peace was tangible and I felt like my whole body took a big deep breath for the first time in weeks.
I also spent some time watching a live steam of the Bethel Heaven Come Conference. My husband and I attended it last year when I was 6 weeks pregnant and I had been waiting to catch glimpses of it this year online. One of the praise and worship leaders, Jeremy Riddle, was leading worship and began to talk about joy in between songs. And by “talking about joy”- I mean he spent a good 5 minutes discussing joy. Although Hector and I hadn’t named Joy yet, it had been the name I felt the strongest connection to for the past few months. Ironically, I thought of that name when attending another Bethel music event this past January, also led by Jeremy Riddle. During the live stream, Jeremy said “I believe God is releasing joy… He’s releasing joy tonight, joy will come in all shapes and sizes….”. Steffany Gretzinger joined in, singing about joy, to include a playful version of “I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart…” amidst a rather serious worship set. There was laughter, there was peace and deep down in my soul I knew our baby was coming very soon.
My water broke about 12 hours later at 4:15 in the morning. Contrary to what most of us think, water breaking isn’t actually as common as Hollywood teaches us. I was not at all expecting my water to break and although it was great confirmation we wouldn’t be needing the induction that was scheduled 2 days later, it also was another blow to my birth plan.
Rewind about a month and that’s where the birth plan took its first hit. I was GBS+. Group B strep is a bacteria we all carry, but about 30% of healthy women “colonize” the bacteria and there’s risk to the baby if mom isn’t treated with antibiotics prior to delivery. This meant that my plan of laboring at home for as long as possible with my husband and doula would likely need to be adjusted and also my plan of laboring in water at home (no, I was not planning on a home birth, but I did want to be in the comforts of home for as long as possible before heading to the hospital where I wouldn’t be able to eat, drink, be in my own bed, etc.). It had been my hope for years to have a natural birth and I knew arriving too early at the hospital would decrease the chances of laboring without medication. I also knew that I needed to be at the hospital with enough time to receive 2 doses of IV Penicillin prior to delivery to make sure baby and I were safe and sound.
After realizing my water had broken, I waddled out to the living room to let my night owl husband know this wasn’t another peeing on myself moment. Bless his heart- he was finishing up building a baby gate and finally going to come to bed. I phoned the doula and we agreed that since it was still early, I would attempt to get some rest, focus on staying hydrated and nourished and we would see if my body would begin contractions on its own. Less than an hour later, the fun began. Contractions were fairly intense and coming more quickly than I thought, about 5 minutes apart. I called Ashley back to let her know I thought she should go ahead and come over because I needed some help coping and these were coming faster than we anticipated. By the time she got to the house (a short 45 minutes later), the contractions had begun to space a little more. The next hour was really good practice of learning how to cope… how to listen to Ashley through each contraction, learning counterpressure on my back worked wonders and that I didn’t want anyone but Ashley talking while I was contracting- sorry hubs, hush it. An hour or so of moderately intense contractions and they fizzled out. Ashley suggested we go for a walk and we headed out into the warm Texas heat. We did a portion of the Miles Circuit and by the end of the walk there was officially nothing going on. We agreed we’d gather our things and head to the hospital knowing that since my water had broken, I was on a bit of a clock as most providers are going to want a baby delivered in 24 hours (or sometimes less) when a mom is GBS+.
We arrived at the hospital around noon and I shoved a few dates in my mouth knowing I wouldn’t be allowed to eat after walking through those doors. The rather slow triage process began and the nurse checked me. I was so eager to learn if the morning contractions had helped move things along at all. I was 2 centimeters. I had been dilated to 1 centimeter for almost a month so I tried to see that as progress, but was a little disappointed I hadn’t budged a bit more. They confirmed my water had indeed broken and prepared a room for me right away. In the process, another woman arrived with a much more emergent situation than mine, so it was about 3:00pm before we got in the labor and delivery room. By that time my contractions had started up again and I was feeling hopeful I wouldn’t need Pitocin to get my labor going. We were also getting back into a rhythm of dealing with each contraction. Ashley would help me with my breathing, remind me to “get ahead of the contraction, that it would peak, I would ride it back down and then take a break”, to “take a long deep breath all the way down to baby” and “imagine my cervix opening”. I was so grateful for her help and how easy (not the contraction part) it was to listen and respond to her. We hadn’t “practiced” any of this, but she knew what she was doing and I trusted her guidance. Hector and she took turns applying counterpressure to my back on the especially intense contractions and I’m pretty sure she reminded him to be quiet because I didn’t want anyone but Ashley talking. They both hushed nurses or anyone else that walked in- I can’t tell you how serious I was about no one talking. I was struggling to “visualize” my cervix opening and was searching for something other than a flower blooming to represent that. Finally it clicked and I thought of the pottery making process- molding the opening to a vase- and that was what I visualized from every contraction out. And occasionally in a moment of humor, I would think of the famous scene from Ghost.
The doctor on call was pretty amazing. Dr. S. was humorous, kind and motivated to honor what I wanted my labor and birth to look like, as long as it was safe. Since I was GBS+, she explained she wouldn’t be checking me very often because every time increases the chance of spreading bacteria. She said she was going to let me do my thing for a few hours and she’d be back. I remember thinking “but how will I know how dilated I am?”. Ashley had spent a lot of time educating us on the different stages of labor- early, active and transitional and how contractions are different at each stage- basically the closer you get to transition (where you fully dilate) the longer and stronger the contractions become. Evening came and I was contracting very regularly, including some 70+ second contractions that were 2-3 minutes apart. I remember sitting on the birthing ball asking Ashley “please tell me this is actually active labor” and she assured me that the contractions were certainly indicating we were not in early labor anymore and she was impressed with how consistent and closer together the contractions were. I was growing a bit weary and wondering where exactly I was at in this process. There were a few moments of overwhelm. Moments of missing my dad. Moments of unbelief that God had really brought us here- how he has restored our marriage and given us the gift of a baby girl. Around that time, Ashley played “Letting Go” by Steffany Gretzinger, from my birth play list.
“You’ve brought me to the end of myself
This has been the longest road
Just when my hallelujah was tired
You gave me a new song…”
This has been the longest road
Just when my hallelujah was tired
You gave me a new song…”
Around 6:30pm I was ready to consider “letting go” once again and deviating from my all-natural birth plan. I very clearly told Hector and Ashley that I wanted the doctor in there now and that if wasn’t at least 7 centimeters, I was ready to consider pain management. Dr. S arrived, checked me as quick as she could between contractions (they were so close together!) and I WAS THREE CENTIMETERS. THREE. We were all a little surprised that I hadn’t progressed more than that, but at that point I very confidently said “Alright, well that’s easy. I’ll take the epidural”.
I’m so grateful that it was an easy decision to make such a large deviation from what I had wanted for Joy’s birth. If I had been 5 or 6 centimeters, I’m sure I would have hesitated but hearing I was only 3, was just the confirmation I needed to change the plan. And my body needed it because a short 3 hours later, I was ready to push. I remember asking Hector and Ashley if it was actually possible to feel my cervix opening or feel her head moving down because that’s exactly what it felt like. Around 9:30pm, the nurse went to examine me and her face immediately showed concern. She said she needed to page the charge nurse and of course, I was terrified. I ask Ashley to pray and it seemed like forever before the other nurse came in, soon followed by the doctor. Dr. S. went to check me and I couldn’t even look at her- I was so afraid to see a reaction that would confirm something was wrong. I finally opened my eyes to see her with a big smile on her face and she said “Are you ready?”. There was nothing wrong; Joy had moved pretty far down and I was getting very close to meeting our daughter.
Although my doctor wasn’t the one on call, Dr. S. was also A-okay with our request to have Hector help deliver our baby. I can’t imagine how special that feels to deliver your own baby, but the smile on his face in some of the photos below says it all. I’m so grateful that this was part of Joy’s birth story.
They began to get everything ready and we were about to work on practice pushing. I called my mom on speakerphone and ask her to pray. In the weeks leading up to labor, I was most worried about the pushing phase. I’m the WORST at holding my breath, which is something necessary while pushing. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold my breath long enough, but in hindsight that was one of many silly fears because at that point you’re going to do whatever it takes to push your baby out. And I did just that- whatever it took. For me that basically looked like having church in the delivery room. It meant playing King of My Heart by Steffany Gretzinger over and over and over again. It meant I was repeating scripture over and over and over again out loud… “You are fighting my battles for me, I only need to be still. My times are in Your hands. You have promised me a future and a hope. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me….” and probably a dozen other verses that were just flowing out because I was clinging to those promises the same way I clung to them throughout the entire pregnancy. I honestly felt like I was in my own little world and I didn’t even notice that apparently the doctor was exerting all her strength for more than an hour to help me stretch down there and minimize tearing. She was so patient and intentional to help us have the most safe and smooth delivery (and recovery) possible. She made me laugh, encouraged me to reach down and feel my baby’s head when she could tell I was growing a little tired and together with Ashley, Hector and the nurses cheered me on until I was able to push Joy’s head out. At that point I remember hearing the term nuchal (which from my days working as a NICU dietitian, I knew that meant her umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck).. followed by “oh, double nuchal” and I watched as the doctor and Hector unwrapped the cord twice from around her neck before pulling her body out. She had the loudest cry and didn’t require any additional stimulation. She was never distressed at any point during the labor process despite having her cord wrapped around her neck twice. Thank you, Jesus.
Hector handed her to me and I can still remember what that moment felt like. Seeing her face and holding her for the first time was like seeing so many of God’s promises unfold right in front of my very eyes. It was the culmination of so much- a pregnancy that required 8 ultrasounds by our 12 week appointment, being told there was a 50% chance I’d miscarry, but knowing and trusting that God would sustain Joy’s life and help me carry her to term and literally the fruit of our marriage being reconciled. The fruit of humility, grace and forgiveness. Holding her and loving her so deep illuminated God’s love for us in a very tangible way.
Joy Elisabeth Garcia was born on June 2nd at 11:43pm weighing 7 pounds, 2 ounces, 20 inches long and full of sass from the start.
We had agreed we would wait until she was born to name her, but Hector knew my favorite name was Joy. A few minutes after she was born I ask him if we can name her Joy and of course he said yes. I remember Ashley saying that moment made her cry. We didn’t decide on her middle name until the following day, but wanted a female character from the Bible. Elisabeth was John the Baptist’s mother and had a beautiful testimony on God’s faithfulness in times of waiting.
Joy Elisabeth has certainly filled our hearts with joy. We are so grateful God has entrusted and equipped us to be her parents and we are fully trusting that the story God has authored for her is a good one.