AnnaLee’s Birth Story

(Written about a week postpartum)

I’ve hesitated writing this birth story because, honestly, I’m still trying to get my head around it. This pregnancy was more difficult than my others as was the intense part of the labor. It should’ve been my easiest.  Had I been in a better head space it would’ve been. But what I learned during this process is that God is in total control. And sometimes it takes you losing your control and umph (for lack of a better word) to realize you never truly had it in the first place. It was always God.

My last pregnancy picture – 2 days before AnnaLee was born.

I always say I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about anything. I see myself as very mediocre in almost all areas. I don’t mean that negatively, just matter of factly. That is, until it comes to growing and birthing babies. That is something I can do and I can do well. Until this one. This one brought me to my knees in more ways than one. Don’t get me wrong, I got the job done and my baby is perfect. But this task was more than I had anticipated.

This pregnancy came a few months earlier than we had planned. (Planned. Ha!) After an epic meltdown about the fact that I had literally JUST started losing weight after a solid year of trying, I came to grips and excitement about our newest addition who we just knew was a little girl. The meltdown is not a moment I’m proud of and never intended to share. But, this story has a lot of pieces I never intended to share about my own shortcomings.

I got pregnant at a time when our at home business was booming and all nights were late nights. I was functioning on way too little sleep as it was and household duties were falling to the side. Our first two kids, who quite literally never get sick, began a back to back series of colds and such right at my 6-week mark – right when I got super sick from pregnancy.  For about 6 weeks following the kids and I were out of commission.  Ryan would come home to me laying on the couch somewhere between crying and asleep with the kids doing who knows what.  My business suffered, my kids suffered, my house suffered, my poor husband suffered. My sickness subsided around 15 weeks but I never fully recovered energy levels and such.

Almost from the day I learned about this pregnancy I knew something was different. I didn’t want to be dramatic but I did share with my husband and family what I was feeling. Something was wrong or different or going to be more difficult or…just SOMETHING. I couldn’t shrug it off. This “something” needed extra prayer and I needed my family to join me in that.

I can’t remember the exact dates but one night when we were nearing 20 weeks, I thought we had lost our baby. I hadn’t felt movement in several days. We were in a hotel because our oldest has a dental procedure early the next morning. I was laying in bed and just knew something was wrong. This must be the “something” I had felt early on. This was it. I was about to walk this road. I knew it just about as sure as it could be. I told Ryan to pray but didn’t share the extent of my certainty. The next day Ryan Rachelle had her procedure. They brought her back to us and I was holding her as she was waking up from anesthesia. The doctors left the room and I felt my baby kick. Cue the tears! I was holding it together and trying to not be over dramatic in my feelings but when I felt her kick, boy was I relieved. I’ve got very strong intuitions and was shocked, and thrilled, to have been so wrong.

Pregnancy progressed well. Baby was measuring right on schedule which was great news to me as my others were always measuring between 1-2 weeks ahead. I gained significantly less weight this time and thought that may have been why. But I also started heavier than my previous pregnancies. Later we learned more about why I was measuring smaller throughout this pregnancy.

As we began nearing the end of pregnancy I knew I wasn’t in the right head space to gear up for labor. I had been working around the clock plus raising two others kids. As any mother knows, it was a crazy time. I didn’t take the time to ponder this birth like the others. I didn’t take the time to pray over this baby, picture what she would look like, play our birth scenarios in my head. This is how I prepare. It’s why a car birth with Lawson didn’t phase me. It had already played out in my head as  had a dozen other possibilities. In the last weeks I TRIED to get in the right head space but I just couldn’t. It was a mental block I couldn’t get past. I didn’t have that grit. That get-up-and-go. That “I am woman. Hear me roar.” That feeling of knowing you’re facing a battle and being fully prepared to do so. But this is what I’m supposed to be good at. This is what I can do. This is where my mental game is strong. Not this time. Logically I had it. I knew I could do it. I just didn’t have that “umph”.

Very late Friday evening, as I was supposed to be asleep, I got a Facebook message from a friend. She told me that God had placed me on her heart and she asked if I was ok. She later told me He basically pulled her out of her bed and onto her knees in prayer for me that night. I pretty much knew at that point I would wake up in labor. Every time I woke up that night I was surprised to not be in labor. Saturday morning I had some contractions (nothing new) and some light bloody discharge. Alright, maybe this will happen! I contracted fairly regularly all morning but I wasn’t timing. My dear husband, who NEVER EVER gets sick, decided that was the day to do it. Laid out on the couch sick as a dog while I bounced on the birth ball and managed a 2 year old using me as a jungle gym during contractions. I wasn’t at all convinced that it was the day for a birth but I called my mom to help us rangle the kids anyway.

Quick backstory: my first labor was 72 hours. My second was 4.5 hours and he was born in the car. My contractions went from almost 6 minutes apart to 15 seconds in one contraction. I was pushing within 5 minutes. So I had no idea how to know when my labor was real. I always have so many fake outs. So on Saturday I was staying in touch with my midwife. We would have hours of consistent 6-7 minute contractions and then we would have an hour or so of 20+minute breaks. None of it was convincing enough for me to be sure of anything. I was laughing and carrying on like normal between each one. I would get in the bath to slow them down knowing that if I could control them at all that they weren’t the real deal. I was able to manipulate them all day. So again, I wasn’t convinced.

Putting Lawson in bed Saturday night, I just knew I was putting him to bed as my baby-baby for the last time. I still wasn’t convinced I was in active labor but I somehow knew that was the last night. It make no sense, I know. After the kids went to bed I got in the tub again. (I think this was round 4 or 5 in the bath for the day.) I had one super strong contraction in there when I thought my water may break. That was almost enough to convince me. Two more super intense ones and I was going to contact the midwife. Instead, before I could write her, she wrote me and asked if they could go ahead and come over. I took that as my sign. I told her my biggest fear is they would get there and all would stop. I got out of the bath and waited to get into the birth tub.

So what happened next? They got to my house and everything stopped. I’m talking 25+ minute spaces when I’d been at 5-6 minutes for hours. So frustrating! I told them about my hesitancies (I cried. Shocking.) and tried to explain about my head space not being where it should be, etc. They listened with such understanding and tried to talk me through what could be causing such a mental block. They decided to do some Spinning Babies techniques to see if labor would start back up. We did lots of rebozo work, side-lying releases, and inversions. I swear the inversions felt like the biggest workout I’d had in months!  Down and up and down and up… Finally, Melena told us to go to bed, pray together, and go to sleep.

(Picking up writing 5 months later.)

Right before getting into bed I remember Ryan saying something to me and me just responding, “I don’t want to do this right now. I don’t want to.” Not my usual response to labor. He said, “I know but you can do this.”  I want to say I couldn’t have been in bed more than about 15 minutes when I called my birth team back in and asked to get in the birth tub in my living room.

I got into the tub (aww sweet relief) and asked Melena, “Are we sure this is going to happen yet?” She shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” in a very Melena way. Never give false hope, never discourage. Just encourage all the way.

Within a few contractions I knew this was the real deal and it was going to be fast. Once my body starts pushing (I don’t push voluntarily. I just let my body do it’s thing. It’s smarter than my brain.) I know it won’t be long. Melena was pumping her milk for her sweet boy when I grunted out a “Jesus!” Funny how that word sends them all running! “She’s descending!” I said, to which my mother still laughs about. “Who says that? Why wouldn’t you just say she’s coming? She’s getting lower? Here we go? Anything else?”

I was on my knees and with each contraction Ryan was pushing on my lower back, and I held (and pulled) my mom’s hand. I’m pretty sure she was holding herself into the chair. I swear she almost flew into the tub with me more than once because I had my full weight pulling on her. I was pulling hard and I knew it! “Ohhhh, Father help me. Father help me. Jesus. Jesus.” That was pretty much all I said or ever say during labor. It’s just what comes out.

This whole thing was more intense than my previous births. I still can’t pinpoint it. And after the fact I can’t even quite remember how. It just was. It was hard. I didn’t feel strong. I felt stubborn as usual but not strong. There was never a moment of giving up, I was completely focused on the task, and I had conscious control over my breathing, relaxing, movements, etc. It just wasn’t…strong. I didn’t feel strong. (Except for the pulling my mom in the birth tub part.) There was no part of myself getting me through it this time. It was all my Jesus. I had to continually let go in my brain and fully lay into Him. It’s like every time those words came out of my mouth I was truly handing myself over in way I had never physically felt before.

I had a huge goal to not tear to the degree I had in my previous births. I was on my knees in an upright position with Melena supporting to try to keep tearing at a minimum. No extra pushing on my part besides what my body was naturally doing. I felt a pop and my water broke. I reached down and felt her head. She was out soon after.

From the time I got in the tub and asked Melena if this was really going to happen until her birth was 59 minutes.

I laid back, brought her to my chest, and immediately called for someone to wake up Ryan. I wanted her there for the birth but because it was more difficult on me than my others they didn’t wake her. Of course she was in love immediately.

Sisters. After baby got cleaned up.

We stayed in the birth tub until the placenta was delivered. When it came out there was the extra sac looking thing on it. Unbeknownst to me, Melena and my mom both initially thought it had been a twin, but it wasn’t. The placenta looked a little odd but they would inspect it more later. More on that in a bit.

We got out of the tub and into the bedroom to inspect everything. When Melena told me I had torn minimally and the choice to stitch or not was mine, I lost it. Bawled. I tore so badly with my first two births due greatly to labor positions. I prayed and prayed that it wouldn’t happen this time. I know God made my body for great things and ripping wide open when I give birth is not one of them. He designed better for me. I had greatly expressed this to Melena to be sure to get me into an optimal position for delivery even if I fought against her. This was a giant answer to prayer. This was direct answer to a very specific prayer and I was so grateful.

We proceeded with stitching (At the insistence of my husband and mother. They knew I wouldn’t keep still for 2 weeks to allow proper healing.), attempted nursing, big sister cut the cord with Daddy, herbal bath with big sister, and all those fun things. I remember getting into bed with Ryan to try and get a tiny bit of sleep a few hours later. We laid down, he kissed me and said, “You did good.” I couldn’t hold back the tears. I said, “That was hard. That was really really hard. I didn’t want to do that.” Again, not my normal response.

Daddy and Melena weighing AnnaLee

For days, probably almost a week, when I thought about the labor I would almost always tear up. I still couldn’t get passed the mental block that came with that labor. It made me feel week. It took my fire. It took my strength. It took me to my knees literally in birth and spiritually in prayer.

During our home check up with Melena a couple days later I shared this all with her. She was shocked. She said in their eyes it was one of the most peaceful and controlled births they had ever attended. Top 5. She had no idea I had been feeling as I had in labor and felt awful about it. She asked why I didn’t tell her. Stopping to tell her would’ve just taken my focus off and made it worse. There was nothing to be done. So I just kept going.  And I’m happy with that choice. Ryan and my mom knew I was having a harder time. I guess because they know me most and have seen me labor previously. Thankfully, I feel strong again, fully capable, and not fearful of future births. Bring. It. On. See? I’m back. That’s a normal birth related response from me. Ha!

Melena and baby Bowen during our home visit.

So, what was this “thing” that I was concerned about early on? This thing that drove me to prayer for safety. Was it that I was certain I had miscarried? Was it that my mental game was off and labor was more intense? Maybe a bit. But we did receive more clarity. When Melena inspected the placenta she found a huge white patch on it. Up to 1/3 of it was dead. The veins had grown over to compensate for the dead portion. At any point she could’ve died. In the beginning, when that urgency for praying protection was so very strong the placenta was forming. We were literally praying for the compensation that we were later able to see with our own eyes in the blood vessels.

*I feel it is important to note that this could not have been seen by additional sonograms or any other type of standard maternal care, be it with a midwife, birth center, obgyn, etc.

Small placenta. Likely why I was measuring as I was.

Here you can see how the blood vessels grew over the dead portion of the placenta.

As the cut away the outer layers they found some of the dead portion.

AnnaLee was born several days before her due date. Not “early” by any means but early for us. When a group of medical professionals analyzed pictures of the placenta they basically concluded that she came out when she did because she HAD to come out. Could this be why God woke my friend from her sleep and pulled her to her knees next to her bed in prayer for me? I believe it was. AnnaLee was born perfectly healthy and protected by her Heavenly Father. My God, I’m so thankful.

So many lessons learned during this experience. Soon after I began to feel human again after darn near a year of feeling useless. I’m so grateful for renewed energy, strength, and the feeling of purpose again. It was a hard and lesson learning filled year.  I look at my 3 babies with amazement and such thankfulness.

First family picture the morning after AnnaLee’s birth. Lawson was immediately in love.

Birth is a wonderful thing. When given adequate time and proper support our bodies will typically do a beautiful job; head in the game or not. I always include in my birth stories how thankful I am for modern medicine and maternal medical intervention when needed. It is a huge blessing of our modern world. I’ve witnessed absolutely beautiful hospital births and do not put them down in any way when sharing my own stories. I also want people to understand the knowledge, safety, comfort, peace, and freedom that can come from midwifery care in normal and healthy pregnancies. I’ve been blessed to have gone through pregnancy and labored with 5 different midwives. All with insane knowledge, training, and heart. These aren’t women who just catch babies. These are women with vast knowledge on every aspect of birth, including how to look for warning signs of difficulties way in advance. These are women who are available 24 hours a day. These are women who constantly sacrifice sleep and time with their families in order to make expecting mothers feel like the most important person in their world. There is no check in and check out. There is no lunch break. There is no schedule. These women are put here by God to serve the women in their communities in the most beautiful way possible. Find a midwife, give her a hug, and probably some coffee.

AnnaLee Page Bennett about a week shy of six months. Sitting up for the first time.