Sharing the baby news early

We share about our pregnancies early, and here's why.

I believe life begins at conception. I believe this tiny, 6-week old baby in my belly that's the size of a grain of rice is every bit a human, every bit a whole entire person, as 13-month old Xavier sitting next to me. Sure, I don't know if it's a boy or a girl yet, or what they look like, but I know that they have an immortal soul that was breathed into life by the Creator of the Universe. I know He knit this baby's bones together with the most profound Love creation has ever known. That they are dearly loved by Him, and by us.

I've never experienced miscarriage, so I cannot begin to imagine what that pain is like, or speak to that experience. But I imagine that I would mourn the loss of this tiny baby the same way I've mourned the losses of other people I've known and loved. I know I wouldn't want to feel made to mourn in secret, or like miscarriage was in some way shameful or taboo. I know I would need the prayers, support and love of our tribe - those right here in my day-to-day life and also those whom I only know online.

Most of all, I don't to live my life in fear. I don't want to fear of losing this baby to overshadow the celebration of their life. I don't want the fear of what might happen tomorrow steal the excitement from today. I don't want the potential for heartbreak to take away my current joy. And I don't want to be afraid of being vulnerable, of being broken, of needing Jesus and others should we lose this baby. But most of all, I want this pregnancy, every pregnancy, this baby's life, and my life to make much of our good, good Father. I want the world to know that it is Him who sustains this life, and if He calls this soul back to Heaven, He is still good and He is still sovereign even in that unimaginable loss.

I don't know how many minutes or days or weeks we'll have with this sweet little baby. I wouldn't know that whether we shared our news at 12 weeks or 20. God is the one who gives life, and God is the one who knows when it will end, for all of us. All I know is I have this moment, right now. And I want to be nothing but joyful about this new addition to our family. I want to know that this baby's life was celebrated and rejoiced over from the moment we found out. And I don't want to sit on the news of God's goodness and the miracles He performs - because it IS a miracle, every single time.

I can understand wanting to wait to share the news, especially if you've experienced miscarriage or loss in the past. It's natural to want to cocoon yourself from the potential pain of having to then announce there will be no baby in your arms. By all means - if you want to wait, wait! I just think we women shouldn't feel pressured one way or the other. Whether you want to share at six weeks or sixteen, you should feel empowered and supported and celebrated no matter what.

So I'm sharing. And I'm celebrating. And I'm trusting in the Lord and the way He has written our story, and believing with all my heart that no matter what the story holds, He is good and Has nothing but our good in mind. And I'm praying that no matter what our story holds, he would use it for His glory.

Saint Gerard Majella, pray for us! Saint Gianna Molla, pray for us!

3 montessori treasure basket ideas

I've mentioned before that we're trying a Montessori-esque approach when it comes to Xavier's toys and playtime. I am by NO means strict about it, and like to think I'm a fairly laid-back mom in general. But I have noticed that when Xavier has the freedom to choose his own activities, which is a principle of Montessori, he is entertained for longer and seems to enjoy what he's doing more. I'm also a huge proponent of toys and activities that stimulate creativity, imagination and open-ended play, rather than toys that light up or sing or generally have to played with in one certain way. Different things work for everyone, and this is what works for us.

I get most of my ideas from Pinterest. I typically type something along the lines of "Montessori toys 6 months" or "Montessori activities 9 months" or whatever age Xav is at the time. There will be a ton of results, so I just scan until something catches my eye. Usually it's a basket of items I know we have already, or an activity using things we already have laying around. I keep it really simple, and aim to have just 3-4 baskets, and only try ONE new activity per week (which, to be honest, usually doesn't happen.)

Here are three ideas for Montessori-inspired "treasure baskets" that are currently out on Xavier's toy shelves!

CONTAINS: two corks (be sure they're large enough that baby can't swallow them; champagne corks do the trick), seashells, driftwood, smooth river rock, greenery orb (fake) and airplant (fake)

SOURCES: corks are from champagne we drank, seashells, driftwood, greenery orb and airplant from Hobby Lobby, river rock from the thrift store

CONTAINS: wooden tree, wooden egg, two napkin rings, star puzzle thing (?), smooth wooden grasping toy.

SOURCES: wooden tree, egg and grasping toy are from Hobby Lobby (in the woodworking aisle), napkin rings and star puzzle are from the thrift store

CONTAINS: a whisk, a basting brush, wooden spoons, a wooden meat tenderizer, tablespoon set and flexible funnel.

SOURCES: large whisks and tablespoon set from Hobby Lobby, foldable funnel from our kitchen, everything else from the thrift store!

For thrift store items, I spray everything down with plain white vinegar to start out, since vinegar is a natural disinfectant. Then I wash everything in VERY hot, soapy water, making sure to scrub all the nooks and crannies since he will most likely be putting everything in his mouth.

He does seem to be getting a little bored with these three baskets, and since they've been out awhile, I'm planning on switching them up next week. I like the idea of an autumn-themed basket, and once the leaves turn, plan to find and laminate some to use for play, sort of like this flowers exploration.

Here are a few more ideas for babies of different ages:

Are you a fan of Montessori, or some other method? What toys do your babies love most? I'm always on the lookout for new ideas! XO!

kid toy crush

Xavier's birthday is around the corner (2.5 months away, but yeah, I'm already planning - haha!) and I've been earmarking some toys I think he might like and wanted to share! So far, we've been pretty minimal in the toy department, and we plan to stay that way. His favorite toys over the past nine months have definitely been non-toys: cardboard boxes, the colander, whisks, wooden spoons, Matt's old boy scout patches, parchment paper to crinkle. But as he gets more and more curious and mobile, I'm noticing what things really intrigue him. He LOVES to spin things, like wheels on his toy cars, and also loves instruments or anything that makes noise. He loves to watch how things work, so interactive toys are going to be his favorites, I think. Here's a round-up of some of the cutest toys I've found that will hopefully inspire imaginative play in your little ones!

1. Wooden abacus // 2. Wooden ambulance // 3. Robot // 4. Clackety clack instrument // 5. Spanish wooden blocks // 5. Shape sorter // 6. Wooden puzzle // 7. Miniature tamborine // 8. Rainbow stacker // 9. Activity cube // 10. Push/pull walker wagon

I also love this little piano and this little guitar - Xavier LOVES our guitar but we don't want him to break the strings, so a guitar of his very own would be so sweet! Some of my favorite brands for kid toys are Melissa + Doug, Hape Toys, Grimm's Spiel & Holz, Imagination Generation and Plan Toys. You can find all of them on Amazon! Etsy also has really neat baby + kid toys, often handmade by work-from-home mamas, which I love to support. I found these beautiful maracas, stacking rings, and set of super cute blocks.

Do you have any favorite kid toys? What did your babes love to play with from 9-12 months old? I'm all ears! XOXO!

walking through postpartum depression

People often ask me how I knew to see my doctor about postpartum depression. The answer is a long one - usually too long for an instagram comment or quick email. And the reality is that I’m still in the thick of it. I feel tons better than I did five months ago, but I’m still taking medication, I still have rough days, and I’m not writing this as someone who has fully come out the other side. I’m writing this as someone who was in the trenches and found the light, was reminded of the hope, but is still moving up and out each and every day.

So here goes.

My whole life, I wanted to be a mom. I absolutely could not wait to start babysitting, and began as a “mother’s helper” when I was in 5th grade, watching littles while their mama was home but otherwise occupied. I moved on to watching kids solo, and then did some full-time nannying, including overnights. I wanted 10 kids when I was in middle school, you guys. I reaaaaaally loved the movie Cheaper By the Dozen. It gradually went down to 7 kids, and then 5, which is where my heart is now. Point being: I could not wait to be a mom.

And then we got pregnant, super quickly, which felt like a huge blessing when so many of our friends have struggled. But I really struggled with pregnancy. I thought I would love it, and I really didn’t. Every part of it was hard. I truly think my depression symptoms started during my second trimester of pregnancy, many weeks before Xavier was ever born. Prenatal depression is just as common as postpartum depression, but for whatever reason seems to be absolutely not discussed. But I remember one night over the summer, curled up in the old blue recliner in our dark living room, sobs wracking my body as I googled “prenatal depression.” Matt walked in and asked me what was wrong and I could barely hiccup out the words, “I think there’s something wrong with me.” But I figured it was just pregnancy hormones, and chalked it up to being overwhelmed and over-emotional. Looking back, I don’t think it was just hormones. I think I knew at a gut level that there was something deeply off, but I was really too afraid to probe deeper. What kind of a mother is depressed during pregnancy, when you’re “supposed” to be glowing and over-the-moon? Not the kind of mother I wanted to be, I thought.

And then Xavier was born. The first few days were pretty smooth. In fact, I remember telling my mom over and over again, “I don’t know why everyone says this is so hard! Things are great! He’s sleeping well, I feel great, things are great!” But after a couple days, things were not great. I felt this NEED for them to be great, or to at least uphold the illusion to everyone else that we were fine-just-fine. I was supposed to be so good at this! But inside, I was crumbling.

One major factor that played into things was how disappointed in myself I was about Xavier’s birth. I already shared his birth story here, and I’ve since totally come to terms with the way things played out. But in the first few weeks after he was born, I was wrecked with guilt and shame about getting an epidural, and beating myself up for what I saw as giving up too early during labor. No one was making me feel this way; in fact, everyone kept telling me how great I did and how the epidural was the best thing for me and for Xavier (and it was.) I just couldn’t believe them. Unfortunately, our natural birth class instructor had some strong opinions about epidurals, and shared some scary statistics (true or not, I don’t know) about medicated babies not eating as well, not developing as well, being higher-risk, etc. etc. I felt like I already let Xavier down before he was even born by not having an unmedicated birth, so I was already off to a bad start. In my eyes, I was already a sub-par mom, and felt like I started out motherhood from a deficit because of how tightly I’d held onto my natural birth plan, and how guilty I felt for having to let it go.

And then there were the panic attacks. The first time I had a panic attack, Xavier was just several days old. I was breastfeeding him and was having trouble - gosh, it was SO painful. I had just fed him around 1 or 2am and as soon as I laid down in bed to go back to sleep, my heart started racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to walk around. I paced the house for a bit, trying to pray and calm down, but couldn’t. Every time I laid back down, I panicked. I felt the crushing weight of being responsible for this tiny person. In my eyes, it was all up to me. I had to feed him. Without me, he’d starve. It felt like too much. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t keep him alive. There was too much pressure. Of course, looking back, it’s easy to see that had things gotten really bad, or had I truly not been able to feed him, Matt could have run to Walmart at 3am and bought formula and Xave would have survived. But in those panicked moments, all logic went out the window. So Matt stayed awake with me and we watched Netflix until sunrise, when I finally calmed down enough to sleep. 

Nights were so hard those first few weeks. Every night around 7pm I’d feel the flutters of panic, wondering how much (or really, how little) I’d sleep that night. I’ve always had a weird relationship with the nighttime. I absolutely hated to be the last one awake at sleepovers growing up; in fact, I’d try my hardest to be the first to go to bed. All growing up and through high school, I hated being the last one awake in my house, too. As soon as my parents headed to bed, I’d go to bed, too. In middle school, I’d tiptoe out of my bedroom and listen at my parents’ door to see if I could still hear their tv on. If it was on, I wasn’t the last one awake. I’d creep back to bed and try to fall asleep as fast as possible. If their tv was off, I was immediately freaked out, and would end up having insomnia for a few hours. I’d go into my little brother’s room and fall asleep on his top bunk, just to be near someone else and not be alone. I have no real explanation for this - to my knowledge, nothing bad ever happened to me at nighttime. Our house was never broken into. I have no trauma associated with the night. I’ve just always, always hated it. And so I think those early weeks with a newborn triggered that same, very deep-rooted anxiety. Every time I got up to feed Xavier, I’d feel panicky and scared, like I was the only one in the entire universe that was awake, even though Matt always got up with me. Those days with a newborn are SO isolating, and it truly feels like it will never end. That’s what it felt like for me, anyway. Fighting the panic every night, gritting my teeth to get through the pain of breastfeeding, and feeling like nothing was ever going to get better. Day after day of feeling like that, and I started to spiral into feeling sort of hopeless.

It all combined into a perfect storm. Matt was gone long hours, working and finishing his paramedic program, and even though we had TONS of help thanks to our AMAZING village of family and friends, I still felt so alone and in so far over my head. Every time Xavier made any fuss whatsoever - which was minor in the grand scheme of things because he was such a good baby - it’s like I’d shut down. Instead of my mothering instinct kicking in, it felt like it shut off. I couldn’t think, couldn’t respond. It’s really hard to put this into words, because it sounds like I didn’t want to take care of my son or that I wasn’t bonding with him, but that’s not the case at all. I WANTED to care for him, I just felt like I COULDN’T. Like I didn’t have the skills to calm him down or meet his needs, and this impossibly loud voice in my head was just on repeat saying, “You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You can’t do this.” And I started to believe it.

I stopped being interested in things I had previously enjoyed, like reading or exercising or baking or anything, really. I thought the minute I picked up a book or started a project, Xavier would wake up or need to eat, so what was the point? I felt like my life consisted of two things: deal with crisis (anytime Xavier needed anything - even if it minor - felt like a crisis) or wait for next crisis. And I kept setting benchmarks for myself, like “once I’m healed from birth, I’ll feel much better” or “once we hit six weeks, it will get better” or “when he starts sleeping through the night, everything will be better” or “we just have to hang on until three months - that’s the magic mark.” I was just prolonging the inevitable, and refusing to admit what I knew deep down: that something was wrong, and I needed some help. 

Here’s the part I’m ashamed to admit. I really believed that depression wasn’t a real illness. I do believe we have a problem of over-diagnosing and over-medicating in general in this country, and that many things can be fixed by living a healthier lifestyle rather than taking a pill. I thought most people who claimed “depression” were really just being dramatic. I also truly believed that depression had no place in the life of a believer. How dare someone who believes in God be depressed! I thought I just needed to pray more and be more grateful. After all, I had a child! I conceived easily, had an easy pregnancy and a short labor, all things considered. A healthy child, an incredible support system. I just needed to buck up and get over it. Or eat some more spinach. Or something.

But I was eating as well as I could, and praying and praying and praying, and trying and trying and trying to feel better on my own, and it just wasn’t working. Even after three months of being a mom, I still felt like everything was so surreal. Like I’d wake up and go back to my normal life. And then it would hit me that THIS was my normal life, and suddenly I’d feel like I had made a huge mistake becoming a mom. Not that I didn’t love Xavier with every ounce of my being - I did - but that I would never, ever have the skills to provide for him and be the mama he needed. I just felt so entirely defeated. All those years of babysitting felt useless, and laughable that I’d believed I was ready to be a mother myself. I really believed it was never going to get better.

And then the lies in my head took a really destructive turn. I started to blame myself for, in my eyes, ruining Matt’s life. He had all these dreams! He wants to be a police officer, maybe even go federal. He was working SO hard for us so I could stay home and be a mom and grow my business. I felt like I had trapped him. Like he was stuck in this life with me and with Xavier and it wasn’t what he wanted. Of course, he vehemently disagreed anytime I voiced my guilt to him. He’d reassure me over and over again that we were all he wanted, that he loved our life. I know he was hurt that I was feeling this way and wondered if he was doing anything to make me feel like that - he wasn’t - I just refused to believe the reassurances he was giving me.

There was a day, I think in December, when I remember feeling my absolute lowest. I was standing in the nursery, staring out the window at the grayness outside, thinking “they would be so much better off if I wasn’t here.” Don’t get me wrong, I never thought about hurting myself, but in that moment I really thought I should just get in my car and drive far, far away. I felt like I was bringing absolutely everyone around me down. I felt so guilty for always calling my mom to save me when I was having a “rough day” - rough meaning Xavier cried once or twice. I felt so guilty for not knowing what Xave needed. I felt so guilty for putting extra stress on Matt during an already stressful season for him. I felt so guilty for not returning texts or emails and making excuses to not see friends because it was just too much. I saw myself as a weight, dragging everyone down. They’d all be better off if I just drove myself to California and got out of everyone’s way.

Oh, my heart hurts so much to type those words. Writing it out brings up just how dark of a season that was for me. Praise the good Lord for delivering me, for being faithful to His promises and never leaving my side, for walking with me through that valley and straight out into the light.

During our trip to Hawaii with my parents after Christmas, I confessed to my mom how I’d been feeling. I was so scared to tell her the truth, convinced she’d tell me I was being dramatic and to count my blessings. Of course, she didn’t say that, because she’s my mom and because she is wonderful. Instead, she patiently listened as I blubbered and cried and told me I didn’t have to feel this way, and that I should make an appointment with my doctor when I got home.

So, I did.

I almost canceled it, and then the day of the appointment I almost didn’t go. I was so torn. On one hand, I was hoping my doctor would tell me what I suspected, that I did indeed have postpartum depression. On the other hand, I was so afraid to officially have that diagnosis, afraid of what that said about me. I didn’t think I fit the mold of a depressed person. But all that - the molds and such - are just stigmas and stereotypes created by society. People all around us are struggling, mostly alone, and the shame and stigma around mental health just has to go.

So I filled out the doctor’s questionnaire and waited nervously for her to come in with the results. They were what I’d known for months: “severe postpartum depression and anxiety.” As soon as she said it, I felt relieved. Scared, sure. But relieved. Because now we had a starting point. Although it felt so unfamiliar and overwhelming, it was ground zero. Now we could make a plan.

And make a plan we did. I started on an antidepressant medication that also helped with the anxiety. She wanted me to take it for six months, so I’ll be taking it until mid-July and then hope to wean off of it. She also prescribed a medicine for the panic attacks that I could take as soon as I started experiencing one that would stop it quickly. Thankfully, I’ve never had to use it. I think just knowing I have it helps when I start to feel panicked. Part of what contributed to the panic spiral was feeling like once a panic attack started, I couldn’t stop it. Knowing I can stop it helps me feel more in control. I also began to really focus on eating nutrient-dense, whole foods, exercising and sleeping well. And I did see a therapist a few times, and although she was very nice, I didn’t find it all that helpful. I chalk that up to the fact that I have incredibly great friends who I talk to openly and often, so everything I talked over with the therapist was stuff I had already talked about with friends and Matt. She did give me one great action step that I feel was monumental for pulling me out of the deep, deep hole I was in, though. Rather than my usual to-do lists each day, she told me to put my planner in a drawer and make only three goals per day. One social goal (like text a friend), one small productivity goal (like make the bed) and one self-care goal (like take a shower.) Because even if I got 12 productivity things done but neglected myself and my relationships, I’d never feel balanced. By focusing on just those three tiny goals per day, I started to gain momentum. For a week straight, my productivity goal was simply to make the bed. Some days I did more than that and some days that’s all I did, but it got me moving. I don’t even remember the day I started using my planner again. It just naturally happened out of weeks of focusing on three simple goals.

Like I said at the beginning, some days I still struggle. I’m still in the thick of this. I battled a lot of shame about taking medication, feeling like it went against everything I believe in and the way I try to live my life (as naturally as possible.) I struggle with feeling like I'll always need medication to make me feel like myself. When people ask how I'm doing and I say "great!" I want to follow it up with "but it's probably just because I'm taking medicine." I don't know why it's been such a weird thing for me, but it has. Some days, every cry or whine from Xave will fray my nerves and make me feel like I’m about to lose it. I think that’s just motherhood, though. It’s never going to feel easy, or effortless. But I’m grateful for that now, because it keeps me close to Jesus. Those effortless moms you see on Instagram? I promise you - it’s an illusion. Which isn’t to say they’re intentionally faking it. I don’t think that’s true at all. I’m just saying that there’s no way to sum up the magnitude of motherhood, the valleys and the victories, the agony and the ecstasy, in tiny filtered squares. Motherhood is far from effortless. It’s grit and it’s grueling and it’s hard, hard work. But damn it if it isn’t the most beautiful hard work I’ve ever done. And I know now that I am absolutely cannot do this work of motherhood on my own, but that Christ is with me and in me and makes me able through his grace alone. Those early weeks and months of motherhood were marked by striving, so much striving to reach impossible standards I set for myself. Motherhood these days feels a lot more relaxed. Sure, I still have days where I make impossibly long to-do lists and then feel frustrated that I didn’t accomplish it, but overall I feel so much more peace. I know I’m going to struggle, but that doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom, or that I made a mistake in becoming a mom. The reality is that yes, we were open to becoming parents, but God was the deciding factor. And to say that becoming a mama was a mistake has to be so offensive for the God of the Universe who breathed life into sweet Xavier and forever marked us as mom and dad. I’m resting in that truth a lot more, these days. That I’m going to struggle, but it’s okay. Because He is in me, and He is goodness personified. I believed the lie that because motherhood was hard, it meant I was bad at it, or could never be good at it. And it felt like in the singular moment that I brought Xavier into the world, my entire identity changed and now I was solely “mom.” And because I saw myself as inadequate as “mom”, it meant I was inadequate in general. That my whole identity, my whole being, was not enough. The truth is that motherhood is just hard, period. It keeps me on my knees and close to Jesus. It depletes me then fills me back up again. It’s hard. It’s probably always going to be hard. But that doesn’t mean I’m bad at it, or not equipped to do it. I AM equipped for this vocation of motherhood, because Jesus says so. “He who began a good work in your will carry it on to completion.” Philippians 1:6. And my identity is not “mom.” My identity is, and always will be, daughter of the King. Beloved. Redeemed. I am not the sum of the things I do or how well I do them or the labels I carry and the roles I hold. I am God’s workmanship, His masterpiece. He gave His own son up for ME. And that didn’t - and never will - hinge on how well I mother, or how well I do anything. And that is good news, indeed.

And I’ve seen so much redemption, so much hope, over the last few months as I’ve walked this road of depression. All thanks to God. Writing this just shows me how far I’ve come. I straight up love motherhood now. Sure, I hate stepping on wooden blocks 18 times a day and I’m not a super huge fan of Xave’s dirty diapers and getting spit up on will never be fun and the fact that he uses my hair as leverage to pull up to standing is not the most awesome thing in the universe, but I’m out of the pit. I love our days together. I can lay on the floor and make block stacks and not feel like there’s forty other things I should be doing. I’m not constantly counting down the minutes until my mom shows up or Matt gets home to save me. I don’t feel like I’m living on a razor edge, seconds from unraveling at any moment. Things don’t feel so wobbly any more. I’ve stopped googling each month’s milestones and obsessing over other mama’s instagram accounts to see how I stack up. And I’m sure that’s partly just from having several more months under my belt. But it’s also thanks to the medication and the steps I’ve taken to be a more healthy, whole me. And it’s 100% thanks to Jesus, and the way He never lost hold of me even at my darkest, lowest point.

Last week, Matt and I were talking about how my Etsy shop has been growing and how to manage my time between my shop and Xavier. He started to outline all the ways I could get more time to work - he could go in late on Tuesday and Wednesday, and my mom takes Xavier on Thursdays and my MIL could take him on Fridays and it hit me - I didn’t want the answer to be spending less time with Xavier. And that feels like a victory. I feel like I fought so hard to get here. Fought myself, the lies I believed, the hold the enemy had on me - that I don’t want to give up that ground. God has done so much work in my heart to get me to this point of truly joyful motherhood, and I’m so, so grateful.

I want you to know, sweet sister, that if you’re struggling with postpartum depression: you aren’t alone. I know you might feel alone and isolated and like you’re on an island, population: 1, but you are not alone. Dawn is coming. There is hope. You are seen and you are known and you are loved. God chose YOU to be your sweet baby’s mama. He’s not surprised by your depression. He’s not surprised by your shortcomings. He’s not up in His heavens, thinking to himself, “man, I really messed up on that one. She’s really not cut out for this.” No! He LOVES you. He’s FOR you. He’s WITH you. And He’ll be with you every one of your days. He’s in the mess with you. He picked YOU for that babe. Depression and all. Shortcomings and all. Messy mothering and all. And you don’t have to feel this way. You aren’t “less than” because of your struggle. You are not a bad mom. You are a warrior, willing to lay down everything for that precious child. But you have to, have to, have to care for yourself. Put on your oxygen mask first. Tell your husband how you’ve been feeling. Tell a friend. Schedule the doctor’s appointment. Take that first step. Throw off the shame. Throw off the stigma. There is no shame. There is no stigma. You are worth it. You are so worth it. I wish I could reach my arms right through your computer screen and give you the warmest hug. You’re okay. You’re doing okay. And you’re going to be okay.

Sending all my love to all of you - thanks so much for reading and I pray my story is used by our mighty Father to shed light on this often taboo subject and bring Him glory above all. XO!

Xavier's birth story

I did not plan on having an epidural.

I planned on an all-natural, unmedicated birth. We’d taken weeks of natural birth classes. We’d learned all sorts of labor positions and how to relax through contractions. We’d hired a doula. I packed a labor bin full of things to use during labor. I had all the essential oils, the labor playlist, the list of Bible verses.

I’d heard for weeks that my body was MADE for this. That women have been giving birth naturally for thousands of years. And what’s more, I believed it. I believed I could do it. I was 100% committed. It’s not that I’d preferred to have a natural birth, but was open to other options. I had tunnel vision. Sure, I said I was "keeping an open mind." Whatever is needed to get him here safely. At least that’s what I told people. But I never internalized that. I never took it to heart. I was going to labor the natural way. I was going to deliver without any medication. I was determined.

But not very much of it mattered, not the bin of labor aids or the index cards of different positions to try or the sheer determination in my mind, because Xavier’s birth went very differently than I expected. 

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

It was my due date: Friday, September 18th, and I had plans. The Influence Conference was in town, and I was beyond excited to have made it this far without having the baby. Even though the conference started on my due date, I was pretty confident the baby wasn't arriving anytime soon. I wasn't dilated or effaced whatsoever, and I had a strong feeling I was going at least a week past my due date. Call it a gut feeling, or maybe just me trying to convince myself that I'd go late so I wouldn't be disappointed. 

I'd gone to the kickoff party for the Influence Conference on Thursday night, and met and hugged so many beautiful women. I was so excited for a weekend of worshipping, laughing, selfie taking and meeting new friends. So what if I was literally 40 weeks pregnant?! I just knew the baby wasn't coming anytime soon. But God and Xavier had other plans.

Around 4:45am on Friday, I woke up with what felt like mild cramps. Immediately I thought, "this could be it!" followed by, "seriously, ON my due date!?" followed by "I am so not ready to do this!" followed by, "dang it, the conference!" I was in and out of bed for a couple of hours, pacing the house and loosely keeping track in my head to see if the "contractions" (I was using quotation marks at this point, not convinced it was the real thing) were regular and if they felt different than all the Braxton-Hicks I'd been having. I'd run into my friend Gretchen the night before at the conference kickoff party, and she asked if I'd been having any contractions (Gretchen just had a baby in May.) I said no, but that I wasn't sure how I'd know if they were real or not! She said that my entire stomach would be rock hard and rigid. So as I lay in bed on Friday morning, I kept my hand on my lower abdomen and every time there was a contraction, my whole stomach would get super hard, almost like it was pulling away from my hand from squeezing so tight. I realized it was exactly what Gretchen had described! That's when I decided this miiiiiight be real and woke up Matt. I lightly tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, "um, Matt? I think I might be in labor?" He rolled over and groggily opened his eyes. "Are you sure?" He asked. I could feel the nervous excitement between us both. Could this really be it?! Thankfully Matt had planned on working from home so he could go with me to my 40 week appointment that was scheduled for later that morning, then drive me to the conference. We both got out of bed and the next couple hours passed in a blur. We gathered the last few things for the hospital bag and Matt loaded some stuff into the car. We still planned on laboring at home for awhile at this point, but wanted to be ready to go just in case. Matt made me breakfast. I called my mom and told her I was pretty sure I was in labor and would keep her posted. I also called our doula, Brandie, and she said that everything I described sounded like the real deal. I remember she said "yayyy, mama!" and meanwhile I was thinking "HOW ON EARTH AM I GOING TO DO THIS." I still couldn't believe it. 

I paced around the house, pausing when a wave would hit. I laid on my side on the couch, trying to get comfortable, but it didn't work so I switched to kneeling on the floor over the exercise ball. As I swayed back and forth over the ball, my water broke. That's when it REALLY hit me - there was no going back now. This baby was coming! We called Brandie again and she told us to time my contractions and check back in an hour. For some reason, even though I had downloaded a fancy contraction timer on my phone, all I could think of was to time them by writing down the time they started on a post-it note. So funny! I kept the post-it for the baby book :)

The contractions were two minutes apart and 45-60 seconds long at this point. We timed them for close to an hour then decided it was time to go. With contractions so close together and my water having broken, I wanted to be at the hospital. In Bradley class, we'd learned the 5-1-1 rule: if contractions are less than 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long for 1 hour, it's time to go. Mine definitely fit the bill, so it was go time! I thought I was progressing really quickly and that I'd be a few centimeters dilated by the time we arrived at the hospital. Matt called his mom and told her we'd need her to watch Scout. "She's in labor!" was her response. Yes, indeed.

I called my mom and told her my water had broken and we were heading to the hospital. "Your dad is jumping up and down!" she said. I pressed "send" on the email I had drafted to friends who were going to and pray me through when I told them it was go time. We hugged and kissed Scout the Dog, who had not left my side all morning. "We'll come home with a baby!" we told him. We were coming home with a baby. And out into the pouring rain we went.

The drive to the hospital was so surreal. I played a song from my labor playlist - Gungor's "You Make Beautiful Things." Rain poured down. Matt and I held hands. I breathed through the contractions. I just kept thinking it couldn't really be happening. And on my due date! Who actually gives birth on their due date!?

We parked at the hospital main entrance and walked in - pausing for contractions. On the short walk, my water started to really break. I thought it had "broken" at home and it did a little bit, but it REALLY broke on the walk in. I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable as we walked into the hospital and water was running down my legs. I started crying and Matt was trying to reassure me. I just wanted to go home and get cleaned up. I wanted to press pause on this whole thing, gather my thoughts, regroup. Everything felt too overwhelming.

We took the elevator up to the second floor and buzzed into the OB unit. The nurse at the front desk seemed very taken aback when I told her I was in labor. She asked if we'd called my doctor - the answer was no - or if we'd stopped at the front desk downstairs to register - also no. Matt and I agreed later that we were positive they had told us to come straight here during our hospital tour and not stop at triage or registration, but apparently we got that wrong. Whoops! Desk nurse lady did not seem happy that we'd arrived in a flurry on her doorstep, and I really wanted to scream that there was water gushing down my legs, I was having very strong contractions and could I please sit down?!

They got us into an observation room and I put on the gown. They started an IV and got me on the monitor, and then things stopped going according to my plan. The baby's heart rate dropped significantly after a strong contraction and suddenly there was a flurry of activity. A nurse strapped a green oxygen mask onto my face and started IV fluids. The nurses were rushing around and everything felt frantic. No one was explaining anything to me so thank God for Matt, who knew what was going on and told me as it happened. I started crying so hard. It was all so overwhelming! One minute I'm at home, cuddling my dog and pacing my familiar house, and the next minute I'm hooked up to what feels like a zillion things with an oxygen mask strapped to my face, soaked and laying helpless under harsh fluorescent lights, scared out of my mind. A nurse checked me to be sure my water had actually broken. It came back positive - which I knew it would - then she delivered the bad news: I was "barely" 1 cm dilated and only 50% effaced. The tears fell harder. I was so discouraged - barely 1 cm and it already was this hard?! - and felt so stupid. I thought for sure with the close contractions and water breaking I'd be way further along! Our birth plan said we'd like to go home if we come in at less than 5cm, so Matt asked me if I wanted to go home. The nurse promptly jumped in to say that since my water had broken, they couldn't let me go. I cried harder. The nurse went on to say that I pretty much needed to deliver in 24 hours. I cried even harder. It was exactly as Bradley classes had described. You head to the hospital too soon, they don't let you leave, you're suddenly "on the clock," one intervention leads to another and your natural birth is out the window. All of this was running through my head as I lay there. I just felt so sad, so defeated, so out of control of my own body and like I was staring at a giant mountain I didn't want to climb. I felt too tired and the day had barely started. Matt called Brandie and she headed to the hospital.

We stayed in the observation room for what felt like forever. Xavier's heart rate kept dropping after contractions, so instead of the usual 30 minutes of monitoring before moving me to a regular room, they wanted me on for a whole hour - an hour without any drops. It felt like ten years, just laying there, listening to the machines. Once I had an hour under my belt, they moved us to a room. The rooms are huge and open, with a giant window. Ours faced the highway and field, which I was grateful for. It was nice to see sunlight the whole time!

The next few hours passed in a haze of contractions - which got stronger and stronger - and finally understanding why everyone says labor is such a mental game. Our plan was to walk around, use the tub, shower, birth ball, change positions, etc. But Xave's heart rate just would not stay steady, which eliminated all of those options. For the first hour I had to lay in bed on my left side while they monitored his heart rate. Once I was cleared, I alternated between the birth ball and being on all fours. Xavier was posterior, so the back labor was intense. It was like nothing I'd felt before and nothing could have prepared me for the intensity. Exactly how we learned in Bradley class, it took every ounce of focus and energy to get through each contraction. I kept saying over and over that I just wanted to meet our baby.

The contractions intensified all afternoon and reached the point where they were three minutes long and a minute or two apart. "Typical" contractions usually last only one to one and a half minutes long, so mine were pretty long compared to the norm. These didn't build up and peak either. They just hit me, full force. Like WHAM!, intense pain. I cried with almost every one. Brandie and Matt kept telling me how strong I was, and that I could do it. Matt, my wonderful Matt. It truly was a "husband-coached childbirth" as Bradley Method calls it. He never stopped telling me how proud he was of me, that I was strong, that he loved me. I couldn't have done it without him. He never left my side.

I got checked in the late afternoon and at first I didn't want to know how far along I was, then changed my mind. 4cm and 80%. According to everyone, I was having a very "textbook" progression for a first time mom, but it didn't feel textbook. It felt longer and way harder than I expected, and so much different than I envisioned.

Things got really intense in the early evening. Xavier's heart rate continued to drop. It would plummet to the 60s and would take a long time to recover. A normal heart rate is in the 120s to 160s, so his drops were serious. The nurse rushed in and flipped me onto my left side and put the oxygen mask back on. The contractions were LONG and HARD at that point, and the combination of the pain, feeling claustrophobic from the mask, seeing the stress on everyone's faces as they watched the heart monitor, all collided. I had a total panic attack. I couldn't breathe and kept pulling the mask off my face, only to have it pressed back on. I truly felt in those moments that I might die. I just kept asking if the baby was okay and no one would answer me, everyone would say "you just need to breathe." I knew that a lot of the time these situations are what lead to c-sections, when the baby is "in distress", and it certainly felt like everyone was stressed out. Matt was down at my level, looking me straight in the eyes and holding my hands, and everyone just kept telling me that I needed to breathe. But I could not breathe! I wanted them to read my mind and understand that I couldn't do it, that I was trying to but it wasn't working. My mind and body felt so disconnected. I was so scared. During a really painful contraction, I looked straight at Matt and told him I couldn't do it, and I wanted the epidural. He said later he could see the "sheer terror" in my eyes and knew it was what I needed. So they called the anesthesiologist, and I started to cry. I felt like such a failure! Like I was giving up. We'd taken the classes! We'd hired the doula! Everyone told me my body was made for this! But I knew I couldn't keep going with the intense contractions and the terrible mask, and a still small voice quietly urged me to surrender. Surrender my idea of a perfect birth, surrender my pride, my shame about not doing it all natural, for the sake of our baby boy.

So I did.

The anesthesiologist came and he was wonderful. He was so patient and kind. I had a moment of second-guessing, and the anesthesiologist told me to take all the time I needed. I'd just gotten checked, so I knew I was at 6cm. I was over halfway there! Maybe I could keep going on my own? But Matt reminded me that what my body and the baby needed was for me to relax, and I couldn't relax with the pain and the mask. Matt knelt down in front of me and told me how proud he was of me. He just kept saying it over and over. And I just kept thinking that the end goal was a healthy baby, all I wanted was a healthy baby. So I said go ahead, and they did the epidural. Matt held my hands and prayed out loud the whole time. They told me I'd have to sit still, hunched over the side of the bed, for ten minutes while the epidural was administered. Either it didn't take nearly ten minutes, or that was the fastest ten minutes of my life. I'd been so scared of having a needle in my back, but after the day's events (and pain), it truly was nothing. They only gave me a half dose at first, but I was still feeling intense contractions and having to breath through them, so they upped it and I went totally numb. The nurse kept looking at the contraction monitor and then asking me, "did you feel that one?" And I just kept telling her no. It was so strange to go from feeling every ounce of each contraction to feeling nothing at all, not even pressure. I did have to keep the mask on my face, so it took all of my energy and focus to breathe steadily and not freak out. I never would have guessed that I was claustrophobic before now, but I think I definitely am!

After the epidural took effect, I progressed pretty quickly. Right around 8pm, the doctor said it was time to push. And right then, my friend Tessa walked in! She'd planned on photographing the birth but I was too overwhelmed all day and decided to hold off on having her there until Xavier was actually coming. She timed it perfectly - and I'm so grateful for the photos she captured! I was a little nervous about this part - how on earth was I supposed to push when I couldn't feel a thing?! But it wasn't as hard as I'd thought. I'd push 3 or 4 strong times, then put the mask back on and wait a few minutes to let the baby's heart rate recover. The doctor who delivered was amazing, he was so patient and didn't seem worried that Xavier needed a little time to recover after each push. The whole time I was pushing, everyone was super calm which was really helpful after what felt like such a frantic day. I pushed for around 40 minutes, and at 8:42 pm, Xavier Joseph entered this world. I started bawling so hard. I just couldn't believe it - he was really here! After all this time. It was the greatest, most spiritual and surreal feeling of my whole life.

We got cleaned up, Brandie helped Xavier nurse for the first time and then she headed home. We introduced Xavier to my parents, who'd been waiting in the lobby, and Matt's parents, who came straight from an event. Once the room emptied out and everyone had gone home, Matt and I just kept staring at Baby Xave. It was - and still is - the most incredible blessing to be his parents.

Birth was far harder, scarier and more intense than I ever imagined. For all my perfectly laid plans and poured over birth preferences, Xavier was born exactly how God knew he would be. God knew, the whole time, the way our birth story would go. Sixteen total hours of labor, fourteen hours of it with no medication. And in the scariest moments, He never left me alone.

To be honest, I’ve worked through a lot of shame and regret about Xavier’s birth. I’d read all the research and heard all the facts about babies born without medication - they nursed better, had better APGAR scores, on and on. And somehow it got all twisted up in my mind, and it all came down to my shoulders. It was up to ME to give this baby the absolute best start in this world, and in my eyes, I failed. I’ve wrestled with thoughts like “I should have held on longer, I could have done it” and “I gave up too easily.” I so resonate with something Jen over at Jen Loves Kev wrote in a recent post about her middle daughter's birth: "I felt like emotionally, I was always a few steps behind what was happening. Never really ever being able to ground myself. In the end I was left with a "what the heck just happened" feeling. I never felt that empowered feeling..." As I was reading that I just kept thinking, "yes! Me too." I expected to feel strong, empowered, warrior-like, fully woman during birth. But I didn't. I felt scared, overwhelmed and like everything was a blur. And it’s taken me all of six months to come to the conclusion that those feelings do not add up to me being a failure. To decide for myself that I am not less than, that my story is not sub-par. Xavier’s birth was not a story of power and superwoman strength, at least not for me. It is a story of unmet expectations, deep disappointment, and ultimate surrender to a very good God.

And really it boils down to this: Xavier’s ultimate safekeeping is not up to me. Of course I’m going to do everything I can to keep him safe and healthy and whole. But God is the ultimate provider, the ultimate protector. God knew Xavier’s birth story long before I did, and in the end it all came down to me surrendering and entrusting my precious son to his loving and capable hands, before he even entered this world.

And I can finally sit here today, holding a wiggly, giggly, chubby six-month old in my lap and say: it was beautiful. My story is perfect. My story is exactly what it was supposed to be.

And yours is too, sweet mama. Whether your birth story is everything you dreamed or nothing like you hoped: you are a warrior. You are strong. Your baby is in this world because of YOU. Whether your labor was 56 hours without medication or you were wheeled into a surgery room, your story is perfect.

And I know this to be true: birth is birth. Natural or with every intervention under the sun. At home in your living room or by c-section in an OR. Birth is birth, and it is beautiful, and it's a miracle. Every single time.

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^^photo by Brandie Stoneking

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