A walk to the donut shop changed everything.
During a visit to my hometown in California, my friend, Trisha, and I were pushing our kids home in strollers, casually talking about motherhood and balance and all the things on our minds about raising babies. At some point in the conversation, Trisha shared about her sister and the beautiful natural birth experience of her third baby a few months prior. I had not verbalized it to anyone other than my husband, but I really wanted something like Trisha was describing for my third pregnancy. It was a desire born from a mix of stories and research and, without a doubt, a sense of pride and accomplishment on my end. So I asked her what made it all so great for her sister.
“Well, she prayed; not that she wouldn’t feel pain or that everything would go perfectly. She prayed over her fear. She spent the months leading up to her baby’s birth asking God to increase her faith, and it showed in every way as she had her baby.”
She gave her fear to God.
It was a truth I held on to in my heart, not knowing how much it would change everything a few months later.
The contractions began on Sunday evening, just as Alex and I were preparing for our small group’s chili feed. They were not very strong and didn’t last more than a few seconds, and I had already had at least one false start the day before so I was not getting my hopes up that they would turn in to anything. It was 5:00pm, we had a place to be, and our doula, Sarah, had encouraged me weeks before, even if I thought labor was starting, to keep going on with normal routines as long as I could. The contractions continued slowly but surely throughout our small group, and they remained consistent as I got in bed. But they were not that bad, so I really did not think much of anything.
Until around midnight, when I was finally uncomfortable enough that sleep was difficult. I woke up and starting timing the contractions, which were anywhere from 5-15 minutes apart for the next three hours. Still, I was able to breathe through each one without too much strain, and around 3:00am I had the thought that if this was going to turn in to the real thing I had better try to sleep a little bit. I got back in bed and rode out the night, thinking surely we would be heading to the hospital soon.
By 6:00am… nothing. Radio silence. No contractions. No cramps. Nada. I felt totally defeated. And I was just so tired.
The weeks leading up to Jordi’s birth were full. Not merely busy: I don’t mean that we had so much to do or so many commitments to fulfill that I just got too over-scheduled to think about having a baby. I mean that they were emotionally packed, bringing with them a mental and spiritual load I did not know how to carry.
First Aylan’s little body washed up on the beach, and for a brief moment the world’s collective heart, mine included, broke for the plight of the refugees. A few weeks later there was a mass shooting at a community college in Oregon—I should say another one, as these are devastatingly becoming common news. Then it was terror in Beirut and Paris, events that brought a hovering anxiety that we all feel. A few days after that a terrible windstorm swept across my state, taking out more than half of the region’s electricity for several days as it did. And in the midst of all this, I battled some very real anxiety about who I am as a wife, mom, writer, activist, and friend; the kind of anxiety that, mixed with 37 weeks of pregnancy, makes you toss and turn uncomfortably all night until you finally give in at 4:45am and just get out of bed. (Related: I also fought 15 days of a sinus-turned-ear infection, which brought no shortage of drama on my end- like the night I woke Alex up at 2:00am and told him I was dying… from an ear infection. And I was serious.)
I sat with these things every day. I wrote about them. Prayed about them. Raised money for them. Lost endless hours of sleep over them. And as my body was very obviously growing more and more ready by the day to give birth to a baby boy, I no longer knew how to hold the tensions I could not escape, and the feelings that came with them.
At 6:00am on November 23, I made a cup of coffee and sat down at my desk. My body was longing for a rest that for all of my effort I could not force to come. But here is something that is always, always, true, even when the feelings are against us to believe it: God is so good to us. And in what felt like a bit of a hopeless moment, he led me back to him with eyes more fresh than I had allowed them to be in the weeks leading up to that morning. I pulled out my Bible, Matthew Henry commentary and sharpie pens (I’m rather particular about the sharpie pens). And as I read and wrote out my reflctions on God’s word that morning, I felt strongly—overwhelmingly— to stop and pray. Not just for my baby, but for my own heart toward God’s timing and what it really means to become a mom of three littles in a world that feels as scary as this one. Those prayers were from a depth of my heart that the combination of stress, anxiety, and an ever-present need I have to do something about it all had kept me from. I wrote about this new season I am entering and repented of the ways I had neglected preparing my heart for Jordi. And in the process, I realized what had happened, and it was the exact thing I needed…
I gave my fear to God.
I spent that morning playing with my bigger kids, making breakfast, tidying up, all the usual things. I would have a contraction every now and then, but they were so sporadic I was not even timing then. I was not thinking at all that labor was imminent, and for the first time in weeks I was not anxious about it. I felt total peace about God’s timing, and I kissed the cheeks off my other two kids all morning, so very thankful for their lives.
Then around noon, the contractions began again. But before you think I am a total idiot for not realizing what had clearly been going on for 18 hours at this point, I just have to say again that they were not that bad. I texted with my doula, who encouraged me to keep timing everything, but to rest as much as I could. Alex got ready for work, but about 15 minutes before he was supposed to leave I had two strong contractions in a row and asked him to stay home, more to help me with the kids than to get ready to go to the hospital, which I was still not convinced was where we should head. I tried taking a nap, but by 3:00pm the contractions were… well they were happening. At 4:00pm, we decided that it had been a long almost-24 hours and this was either a really intense few days of Braxton-Hicks or I was going to have a baby soon. Alex and I got the kids set up at my mom’s house, and I cried saying goodbye and looking at Cannon, knowing he would only be my baby a little while longer. Then we hemmed and hawed back at our house a bit more because what was the hurry? THEY WERE NOT THAT BAD!
Until the drive to the hospital, at which point they were getting a little bit bad. And three minutes apart. There was also an unusual amount of traffic even though I live in a city that never, ever has any traffic. Of course there was. We finally got to the hospital and in to triage at 6:10pm. Katie, our amazing labor and delivery nurse, was checking the baby’s heart rate and asking me a few questions. She could tell I was exhausted and her demeanor was encouraging from the very beginning.
Then she checked my progress and her eyes grew both wide and happy. She smiled at me and said, “Wow, mama! You’ve been working hard today. You’re 8 centimeters dilated. Are you ready to have this baby?”
Surprise. Relief. Motivation. All those things washed over me. Alex grabbed my shoulder and kissed my forehead, and just kept saying “Babe, you’re amazing!” and “We’re going to meet Jordi tonight!” I was totally prepared for them to tell me this was false labor and send me home. But then to know how far my body had really come gave me a new energy. 8 centimeters, I got this. (But also, how could I have possibly been unsure that I was in labor. Cannot answer. I was just so tired.)
And as I walked back to room 2035, I knew what to do above everything else: I gave God my fear once again.
The on call doctor met us in our room. He was amazing, and immediately started joking with me about why I waited so long to come in.
“Well, I did not think I was really in labor."
He chuckled, with the slightest bit of hesitancy, because as a third-time mom surely I should have known what a real contraction felt like.
“Well, you are. And you’re not going to be here long. Third baby, 8 centimeters, this boy will be here real soon. You made my job too easy tonight!” And then he gave me a reassuring smile, made sure I did not want an epidural, and said, “I’ll see you soon.”
For the next hour and half, my little team of five in that room labored together—at least that’s how loved I felt. Alex held me up through the really hard contractions. Sarah, my doula, was right next to my face breathing with me to help me not lose control. Katie, world’s greatest L&D nurse, was willing to get on her hands and knees (and did!) with the Doppler to check Jordi’s heart rate—she accommodated me and whatever position was most comfortable every step of the way. And Sarah G, our friend and photographer, was there to capture the whole experience for us. Everyone in the room was so encouraging, and they made it easy to laugh and chat between contractions. I couldn’t believe I was really going to have a baby, because, one last time, It just wasn’t that bad. I mean, it hurt, but then it didn’t. I had an incredibly supportive husband, our doula was right there helping me keep control through each contraction, and Sarah (the one with the camera) kept telling me I was beautiful. Believe it or not, you do want to hear that in labor. It was a dream team. The blessing of their presence is not lost on me.
And then around 7:30pm, it got hard. Real hard. I’m told that almost everyone who gives birth naturally has their “Why did I…” moment. This was mine. A timeline may be most helpful here:
12:00pm-5:00pm: this is not that bad.
5:00-6:00pm (drive to the hospital): well, this is uncomfortable.
6:00pm-7:30pm: rather uncomfortable, but with new energy not terrible.
7:30pm-8:00pm: oh man, I should have gotten the epidural. Absolutely should have.
8:00-8:10pm: worst decision ever.
8:10pm is when things got crazy. As I lay on my left side on the bed, Katie checked my progress again. “Sweetheart, you are still about 8-9 centimeters, but the baby’s head has dropped much lower so you are close. He needs to turn is head to fit out, and I think a few more contractions will do it for you. You’re close.”
Immediately another contraction came that had me gripping the rail of the bed and letting out a low, steady yell. Alex, who had been relaxed and encouraging the whole time tried to calm me down, but he could tell I was starting to lose it. And less than a minute later, another contraction. This was the one.
8:10-8:12pm: I am dying. What else could possibly be happening other than my body is being ripped in half from the inside out?
And then I felt a baby. For real, the baby was coming out and I could do nothing but scream like a wild animal. Katie, who was still standing at my legs, held up my right leg, yelled, “Get Dr. Pak!” and told me not to push.
Whoever was actually in my body at that moment (because it could not have been me making the sounds coming from that room) screamed, “I can’t stop! I can’t stop!” I could feel Katie holding the baby’s head, but I’m telling you, there was nothing I could do. I felt zero control; my body was pushing this baby boy out on its own.
And then there was Alex, who three minutes before was encouraging and calm, and at this point had wide eyes, no words, and just put his hands on my head in desperate prayer. He didn’t even know why I was yelling “I can’t stop!” until he stood up and looked at Katie holding the top of a baby’s head in her hand.
The doctor ran in, put gloves on, and seconds later caught my baby boy.
Jordi Daniel Blackburn.
November 23, 2015, 8:13pm.
6 lbs, 10 oz.
8:13pm: total relief, no pain, and an incredible high.
It all happened that fast. My baby boy was on my chest and making the beautiful sounds of a newborn cry right away. Grace upon grace, that’s what that moment feels like.
Now I am a mom of three. And in his short three weeks of life Jordi has already helped to teach me the most important lesson:
Give God your fear, mama.
Give it to him today. Give it to him tomorrow. Give him your fear every day, because if you’ll be brave, then I’ll be brave, too.
Thank you, my sweet Jordi Daniel. I’m so glad you’re here.