baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story

For about as long as Kaile was pregnant with our third child, we have fielded the question, “where will you guys go for delivery?”

Our answer would begin with our hopes to be at the Nightingale Birth Center in San Mateo, the most relaxing setting for Kaile. She has given birth naturally without any medications twice already, and apart from low iron and uncomfortable feelings in abundance, she hasn’t experienced significant pre-natal problems.

The truth was, we didn’t know how it would all work out. We put together our plan, made backup plans, and waited. In the modern world, this is certainly not always the case, but birth, in our limited experience, involves a lot of unknowing.

When Kaile began to feel strong contractions on Tuesday of this week, we dutifully headed to the birth center, knowing her body was preparing for delivery. We were aware that there could be a journey ahead. After about seven hours of labor, things slowed down and we headed home.

Those hours spent pacing the room, breathing deeply through each surge of her uterus, leaning on balance balls, and relaxing in the birth pool were meaningful for me; I was able to genuinely support Kaile during this taxing time.

I realize the pictures aren’t great, but they at least offer a taste of the experience! 

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pacing during act I of labor

She was so joyful throughout, surprising our doula, Dasha, and all the midwives with her overwhelmingly positive attitude.

Heading home Tuesday evening was the right move. After a quiet night’s rest, we got up feeling refreshed. I took the boys to preschool and headed home to help Kaile relax.

By this point, anyone reading is probably falling on one side or the other of a spectrum; on the one side, it’s the natural birth crowd, the granola people – maybe the term hippie even applies! On the other side, it’s folks who rely heavily on the standard medical system.

No judgment here regarding what feels comfortable for any other individual or family, but we are definitely on the natural side of the spectrum, not militantly, but with conviction. We recognize the gift it is for Kaile not to have experienced any of the myriad pre-natal challenges common to pregnancy, and we do not take that lightly.

We do, however, live in a culture that often tends to treat pregnancy as a medical problem rather than a natural feminine process. There can exist a culture of fear surrounding pregnancy. In response, our hope is somehow displacing that fear by sharing a story of joy and excitement.

We realize our process is strange to comprehend if one holds different values. This is our story and we are grateful for God’s grace throughout it. 

That said, I will allow the story to speak for itself since the joy, patience, and grace that grew from these several days. These are the journey’s rewards.

After the many hours of labor on Tuesday, labor started back up on Wednesday around mid-day. With the boys safe at preschool, we headed north again to San Mateo and Kaile continued labor until the evening. Again, things slowed, even though her cervix had expanded to about 7 centimeters. Kaile had the same experience with both Silas, in 2015, and Maelin in 2016. Her cervix expanded slowly, and labor came on rather quickly.

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massaging Kaile’s back in the birthing tub

Hours later, as evening approached, labor slowed once again.

The many hours of uterine exercise had taken their toll on Kaile. I too was worn, and we packed up our things once again. Our doula, Dasha, called it act two. We didn’t know at that point how many acts would compose this production, but her reframe of the situation was encouraging nonetheless!

It felt strange to head home, once again, from the birth center. She was so close – yet so exhausted. I put the boys to sleep and Kaile allowed her body to lean once again into much-needed sleep. But sleep was brief.

Around 11:45pm on Wednesday, after just a few hours of sleep, she woke up.

Looking back, I am shocked that our boys stayed asleep. She was moaning with the pangs of labor, and this time was no preparatory period; she was ready to go. Her water broke in the bathroom, as I called a couple friends and neighbors. For the third time in a row, our excellent friend Megan came quickly to the rescue and stayed with Silas and Maelin. We were off, but not to the birth center.

There was no time to get to San Mateo. After calling Firen, the head midwife, we headed to El Camino Hospital. 

As the minutes ticked by, nervous angst overtook my mind and body. Kaile kept mentioning, rather dramatically, that her whole abdomen was in pain, a sensation she had not experienced during Silas or Maelin’s births. “What if the baby is gone?” she asked me several times. “Baby is ok” was all I could think of to say. Truth be told, I was getting sick myself at that point, though I didn’t mention it to Kaile. Maybe it was some kind of empathy sickness. I tried to ignore it by focusing on the next step: getting to the hospital.

Thankfully, the hospital was part of our backup strategy. It was difficult explaining this to friends and family, but we had decided at the beginning that if driving 25-60 minutes [traffic dependent] to San Mateo was too much, we would simply get to a place with support and a clean environment. It could have been home, in the bathtub, but we felt heading to the hospital was good advice from our midwife.

The challenge was, I was entering a medical establishment with systems, practices, and standards that were largely foreign to both of us. Kaile reinforced to me the need to be her advocate, and between the loud moans and pain of forthcoming delivery, I split my energy three ways:

1. getting to the hospital safely and quickly;

2. making sure we avoided having the baby in the car or on a city street;  

3. getting us past any snags or slowdowns at the hospital.  

I had to carefully run just one red light at Grant Road. Soon we were making our way into the building. Our greeting was not positive. A large security guard wanted to make sure he spelled our last name perfectly for the visitors’ badges, and struggled to realize we were in a hurry. I guess the loud moans weren’t enough? He made sure we hadn’t visited Wuhan Province in China and scribbled on our eventual name tags. I was just about to snap at him when a nurse leaving her shift gave us some encouraging words. Looking in Kaile’s desperate eyes, she said, “you’re going to be ok, girl! Hang in there! You’re going to do great!”

Her smile was enough to redouble our faith, and it was God-given moment that helped us stay the needed course. Soon we were on the elevator – not that we knew where we were going. It was a blur. To paint a picture of the scene, I was pushing Kaile in a wheelchair, almost running, as she moaned her birth pains louder and louder. When it comes to feeling countercultural, this was the peak. No Pitocin, no epidural, and no intentions of using the leg supports that are familiar from the movies.

Baby was coming, and we just needed a safe place to be.

“I need help!” yelled Kaile as we rounded a corner and sped past the check in desk. “My wife is in labor!” I exclaimed several times. “We need to get her into a room!”

“Sir, STOP! We need you to check in! We’ll take her from here!” came a voice from behind a desk.

“Not leaving her, I’ll do that later!” I responded as I wheeled by, with some irritation. I wasn’t about to do paperwork and miss the birth of our child. Sorry, hospital administration! I couldn’t leave her in good conscience. There simply wasn’t time.

Moments later we were in a birthing room. Kaile splayed out on all fours on the hospital bed as nurses milled around asking questions that I delayed answering; I was focused on Kaile.

She remembers someone telling her not to push – strange and unhelpful advice, for moments later – easily less than a minute – a kind nurse, Kristen helped me deliver our first daughter. After just two of Kaile’s effective pushes, she was out, her tiny bluish-red body moving, her mouth producing a quiet cooing.

There was no loud cry, just a gentle announcement of her presence. I slowed her down as she exited the birth canal and patted her dry with towels, and we quickly moved her to Kaile’s chest. At 12:13am on February 27th, we welcomed our first daughter, Junia Emerens, into the world with much emotion – and much gratefulness to God.

A male doctor stormed in after Junia arrived and started prodding Kaile’s body. He began the process of severing the umbilical cord almost as soon as he arrived, something that doesn’t need to be done for quite some time. “Excuse me, whatcha doin’?” I interjected, annoyed that I had just co-delivered my own child while he had the audacity to burst in and do this process without even the courtesy of alerting me. Is not this a common tradition, even in hospitals? He handed over the scissors rather awkwardly, as he seemed to own his tiredness or burnout – whatever it was that was affecting him.

A nurse then told Kaile she would be administering Pitocin to help with some kind of process, to which we both responded, “why? I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” I have no qualms with this particular medication in general, but it was foreign to us and Kaile had not required it in the past. Because the staff was used to this practice, however, they made the assumption that we would simply go with their orders. Not so!

I assured the nurses that we, our midwives, and our doula had discussed these steps in detail, and that they were coming to support. They showed up just a few minutes after the birth.

Within five minutes she was happily eating her first meal outside the womb.

The burned out doctor stayed for just a few minutes, and our interactions were positive after that initial umbilical cord exchange. It reminded me how vastly different our care was at Nightingale Birth Center. There were always gentle questions – no demands, impatience, or pressure, just support and graceful guidance when it was needed.

Granted, the medical staff was in a strange spot; this was an unusual situation! I especially credit one RN, Kristen, for listening to our needs and not forcing us into the standard battery of birthing practices. I am also grateful for Jennifer, a nursing student on her second week of shadow work with the nursing staff, for her kindness and presence with us.

Kaile had no vaginal tearing whatsoever. She did a little postpartum dance just a few minutes after having given birth. This is not normal, and it was certainly not her experience with Silas and Maelin. She was surprisingly well, physically, experiencing a post-birth euphoria that lasted for hours. Our smiles are unforced. They are the result of a long and drawn-out process with an utterly splendid result.

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rejoicing at El Camino Hospital
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pretty momma feeding Junia

For any women reading this with any level of annoyance, please understand – Kaile hates being pregnant. Anecdotally, she is more tired and uncomfortable than most women she and I have spoken with regarding pregnancy. But for whatever reason, birthing itself is a source of joy and empowerment for her. She thrives knowing each surge of contraction will eventually lead toward the presence of a new being in the world – a new soul, as Saint Augustine perceived it.

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Silas with his new sister
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Maelin and Junia bonding

We are united now as a family, getting used to new patterns. Silas and Maelin love Junia and ask us repeatedly if they can hold her. 36 hours in, it’s difficult to say what she will be like as an infant, but at this point she has been a bit easier than her older brothers. All the vital signs of breathing, hearing, digestion, blood flow, and vision are overwhelmingly positive. We are grateful too to have a daughter in our family.

 

 

 

A son would have been amazing too, of course, though I had a sense that it could be strange to have two tightly spaced boys [20 months apart] followed by another boy after a 3.5 year gap . I am sure that would have fine! But I’m grateful Junia Emerens will be the beloved baby sister who will, God willing, grow up into a strong and grace-filled woman with good relationships to her two loving older brothers who are learning to accept and cherish her dearly.

 

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note the blonde hair!
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our family, except me!

I’ll close with a doxology. God has been good to us, generous and kind. Whatever challenges lay ahead for us, we are experiencing overwhelming joy in the present. These words of praise are from the end of the letter to the Ephesian church, found in the New Testament of the Bible:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 

8 thoughts on “baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story

  1. Beautiful narrative, B. Could you please send us more pictures, like those in the blog, and help us know how to download them onto our phones? The system has changed and I don’t know how anymore. 😐

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  2. I loved reading this! Thank you so much for sharing all the different tender, uncertain, and exuberant moments of your story with us! And the pictures – absolutely beautiful to capture those connected moments. That’s an honor that you would share that gift with us.

    I did actually enjoy being pregnant, and although my two births had their challenges being induced at 10 days over and 11 days over, it definitely made me feel so strong and proud of myself and in awe of the accomplishment of my body. There are times I’ve wished I could redo it with the knowledge and mindset I gained in later years, but instead I’ll just marvel and rejoice with other younger parents. I do love hearing all the details – such a miracle!

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    1. Thanks for this, Andrea! It was a lot to share, probably seen as too much by a lot of folks. And that’s ok. It was also a bit odd to share my perspective as a male, but I did it with Kaile’s robust blessing.

      It’s really encouraging that you’re commenting as an older parents without telling me all the ways I am doing it wrong or telling me I need to *just wait* until some further date down the road. Instead, you celebrate with us. Thanks for that. It means a lot. Miss ya friend.

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  3. Wow… this is an amazing story, especially on the 3rd round when I did a double-take in realizing from the time Kaile woke up and when Junia was born was only a half hour! That sounds like craziness navigating the strangeness of a different hospital. Kudos to you, Ben, for being a great advocate and support to your family! Blessings!

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  4. Ben and Kaile, hurray for you all. A daughter!! Congratulations, what an exciting birth story. Hope the first week at home goes great!

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