This birth story is extraordinarily different from any other I’ve ever written. The best way to describe my piece of the story is “disjointed.” Its exactly how I feel. Every emotion under the sun hit me all at once, and I a realize its OK. I will embrace it as it comes. One minute I’m blaring “Hey Jude” with a smile the size of Texas on my face, and the next I’m sobbing for no reason. All of that is OK. I give myself grace to feel.
I myself haven’t dealt with infertility, but almost every vital person in my life has, and I’ve always “felt” those struggles. They hit me, hard. I hate the ease I’ve had conceiving baby after baby, while watching those I love struggle with loss or inability to conceive. It isn’t fair. When I learned of my little brother Donavan and his wife Kelsey’s struggles, I felt it too. I prayed daily, sent all the good vibes I had, gave them advice and suggestions I’d learned, and finally, offered my body as a vessel had they decided to use a surrogate.
In March of 2017, we enjoyed a wonderful visit with them, and were filled in to the fact the following month would be their last trying to conceive via medical interventions. We gave them a fertility statue I’ve cherished since before having children, and we prayed.
The day came to find out if the final round had successfully delivered them a sticky baby, and of course we were crushed for them when learning it had not. I can’t speak on how they felt, but I know Justin and I were filled with guilt, pain, and sadness, but also a fire to help. We decided to offer up the idea of conceiving a child for them to adopt. A traditional surrogacy would’ve cost insane amounts of money! It isn’t exactly easy to travel for medical procedures when you have nine children, and hormone injections certainly wouldn’t have been super fun for me. So it made sense. Why not just have a baby for them? I guess now I can say, the rest is history.
Being pregnant for someone else is interesting. Especially when you are me, and have done it many other times. You know exactly what to expect. You know how you usually do things. You know how excited you normally are, and how many belly photos you usually take. But then you don’t do those things. You don’t even want to do those things. You want to remain as unattached as possible. I was a bit shocked at first, how easily it was for me to say the human life growing inside of me wasn’t mine, it was theirs. How easy it was to not be planning and buying and preparing. It was just as easy for Justin. Nothing about our life changed, we continued day to day normally. We told our kids at the start of the second trimester, and they continued normally too. They knew the baby was their cousin and not their sibling. They were ecstatic to have a cousin on the way and hearing Uncle D and Aunt K would finally be parents.
The joy radiating in our home was different than the norm, but no less amazing. As we approached sweet Baby Jude’s due date, the excitement and joy grew! Birth supplies were purchased, doula meetings were had, plans and ideas were discussed. We were ready and all we needed was Jude to start the process!
I began what I thought was normal prodromal labor on December 20th, with contractions pretty consistently 7 minutes apart, and let Donavan and Kelsey know it had begun. We’d discussed my usual pattern of labor many times, so I reminded them I could have weak, but consistent contractions for a day, or 8 days, before labor truly began. They changed their original arrival date, not wanting to risk missing his debut.
Arriving in Yuma the evening of the 21st, they surprised our kids, which was an amazing gift! The next week was nothing short of magical! We had SUCH an amazing time with them, we played outside, watched movies, played cards, and prepared for Christmas. We woke Christmas morning and had the BEST Christmas I’ve ever had all together as a family. No one worried about when Jude would come. No one made me feel pressured or “watched.” It was the perfect week before birth, and I will forever be thankful to them for that.
Thursday December 28th, the day my midwife had set as my due date, I went in and had my membranes stripped. It was incredibly painful, but encouraging. I was 1cm dilated, so the midwife also stretched me to 2cm and sent me on my way, after letting us know I’d likely experience pretty severe cramping, then hopefully labor would begin.
We arrived home to company at the house, so I knew nothing would happen that evening. We enjoyed dinner with friends who had come into town along with Andi, Drew, Donavan, and Kelsey. We played cards, then they headed out to get some sleep at the hotel. Almost immediately, I began having contractions. Nothing major, but enough to make me feel hopeful! Justin and I decided to “spend time together” to hopefully move things along. He fell asleep after, thinking I would also be sleeping. I couldn’t get past my excitement, things might finally be starting to happen, so I took a long shower and bounced on the birth ball. I finally climbed into bed and tried to sleep through contractions.
A strong contraction woke me an hour later, requiring me to hum to get through. From previous experience, I believed humming meant go time, and my non-medicated labors had only been 3 hours long in the past, so I woke Justin. While I contracted and hummed, he set up the pool and lit candles. The most distinct memory I have about that time was the feeling of excitement it was finally time to see my baby brother become a father! Justin was amazing helping me through each contraction and preparing our room, just as he did when we delivered our son Remy. I called Kelsey and woke her by saying “are you ready to have a baby?!” She got so excited she hung up on me! Donavan text asking if they had time to shower, I let them know they needed to make it quick because I could go very fast. During all of this, I had strong contractions, but only roughly 10 minutes apart. I texted my doula, Julie, and she and I decided she would head over in an hour.
Donavan and Kelsey arrived as Justin and I decided to “spend time together” again, so we informed them, which was highly entertaining. They left to give us privacy, and pick up breakfast for everyone. When they returned, Andi, Drew, Donavan, Kelsey, Justin, and I all hung out in our dark, warm, and cozy bedroom sitting around the birth pool watching Survivor and eating breakfast. It was an amazing time of laughter, contractions, enjoying each other’s company, and working together to bring forth Jude. I finally felt it time to get into the pool, so I did just that. Laboring and birthing in warm water, in the middle of my own bedroom, will NEVER get old to me! It is one of my very favorite things to do. The energy in the room, the feelings of peace and calm, the knowing life was coming soon, nothing could compare.
This is where things begin getting fuzzy for me, and most of my thoughts will be sparse and filled in with information I received hearing Justin, Donavan, and Kelsey tell their versions during our postpartum doula visit with Julie. At some point Elysa, my best friend, arrived and set to work helping me labor and meeting the needs of our kids. Andi and Drew had been with the kids all day, I didn’t have to worry about them one bit and I will never be able to thank them enough!. At some point, I do remember Rhiggs came into my room and seeing me in the tub said “Eww Mommy’s butt!!!” I will never forget it, I die laughing even just sitting here typing this.
Shortly after, I asked how long it’d been, I was starting to feel like pushing and hopeful we were nearing the end. It was past 11AM, so officially my longest labor! 7 hours?! Why isn’t the baby here yet then? I hit a bit of panic at that point. Crap, how was I going to continue feeling this pain? I’m tired. It hurts. I’ve been awake for 27 hours. Crap, Crap, Crap! Julie continued reminding to get out of the pool every hour and attempt using the restroom. She’s good at making sure I do what I need to when in labor. Justin was there every single contraction, letting me push and pull on him, reminding me to breathe through them, not to clench my mouth shut. You are doing it. You are strong. Seriously, how did I ever get so lucky to catch this man?
Unsure of how many hours passed, I do remember bits and pieces of a conversation with Julie, discussing either trying to get things going or to trying to slow them enough I could sleep since I was exhausted. Ultimately, it was decided walking for awhile would be the best option to attempt speeding up contractions. We were now about 11 hours into a very rough labor. Justin, Julie, and myself took off for what felt like the worst walk around the neighborhood I’ve ever had! We only made it one block, and I’m sure it really didn’t take that long, but it felt like HOURS to me. Contractions picked up, which was less than fun, and my hips and calves were hurting worse with each and every step. We made it back around to our side of the block and I mumbled something about wanting to go home and sleep. I don’t even think I looked at anyone as we walked into the house or talked to anyone at all. All I know is, I ended up in my bed laying on my left side with all of the pillows on our bed helping support me while Justin laid behind me, cuddling me. I passed out, but woke up every 14 minutes with a contraction. He would hold me and tell me it was all going to be OK, while reminding me to breathe through each one.
While I tried resting, I was told Elysa left to get her girls taken care of, and Julie curled up in a corner of our room on the floor reading a book, and then taking a nap. Andi, Drew, Kelsey, and Donavan handled all nine of our munchkins in the meantime. Julie also headed out at some point to tend to her girls.
In the evening I woke, feeling as refreshed as possible 15 hours into a difficult labor. Justin and I walked again, but I wanted to stay inside, so it was just around the living room while listening to the kids play games with the adults. I remember walking in circles, swaying back and forth, and praying for it to pick up so it could end. The kids were sent to their rooms to watch TV and play. Andi, Drew, Donavan, and Kelsey headed back to their hotel to try to get some sleep. Justin and I headed to our room and at some point, decided to drain the majority of the pool until it was needed again. That ultimately ended up being a very bad idea! We also decided to “spend time together” again hoping it would bring on more contractions. Hey, it worked with Remy! If you are keeping track, that’s three times now, I was desperate for Jude to get out of me! This time was more painful, and also unsuccessful. Or so I thought.
I took Julie’s advice and swallowed Tylenol Pm in an attempt to ease the contractions enough to sleep and begin fresh the next day. Once I took the medicine, I had no concept of time anymore. I slept between a few contractions and woke up feeling uncomfortable, needing to move. I asked Justin how far apart the contractions had been, he hadn’t slept at all since he didn’t want to leave me to fend for myself during contractions. He told me they were still 14 minutes apart. I knew in my head it was most definitely not time. But my body said differently. Something deep inside of me knew, this is it. The final stretch. I needed the pool. Justin says that entire day threw him for a loop because of how spot on I was with knowing exactly what would happen. He didn’t believe me at first when I said I needed the pool, but I reassured him I NEEDED the pool or I’d never be able to finish this. I was at the end of my rope and beyond ready to throw in the towel. He began refilling the remainder, but we didn’t have enough hot water for the correct temp a baby could be born in. I climbed in anyway hoping for the water to be able to give me at least comfort. As soon as I climbed in, he began boiling water on the stove to finish filling the tub and bring the temp up. I began a contraction and thought “This is it, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I need to get to the hospital and get an epidural.”
The stars aligned, my water broke at the tail end of that contraction! Just mere seconds after I’d decided to give up, I will NEVER forget that moment! Just feeling the pop and gush filled me with strength and energy, I was a completely different person instantly. I was me again, ready to do what I had set out to do back in April. I told Justin my water had broke, and asked him if he could see anything in the pool. He said it looked cool, you could actually SEE the amniotic fluid mixing with the water. We knew it was time to call everyone. I have zero recollection of who he called, but before I knew it Donavan, Kelsey, Andi, Drew, and Julie were all back with us in our warm, candle lit room.
From the time my water broke until the time he began crowning, I have no memory except for the realization in my head that every exhale breathed out the pain. During the start of one contraction, I recall telling Justin to repeat to me over and over “Breathe out the pain.” I was forming clear, coherent speech in my head, but apparently was not actually verbalizing those sentences. I pointed in the direction of my three stellar partners and simply said “Pool. Now.” No one had any idea who I was referring to, or what I wanted or needed. I had to snap and point at Justin before they realized I needed him behind me to help me push Jude out. I felt him descend into the birth canal and he was moments away from crowning. I knew I’d need those big hunky arms of Justin’s to hold me, but couldn’t say it out loud I guess.
I’ve been told, when Jude was crowning I looked at Donavan and let out the most primal howl he’d ever heard. He says it was “super cool” and I should’ve had lightning coming down around me at that point. See, this is why I adore hearing everyone else’s perspective of my birth! They say the coolest things while I’m here saying “Ow. It hurt. A baby came out. Justin was amazing.” Once I finished howling, I reached down and could feel baby’s head coming. I told Kelsey to reach down and catch him. She got the biggest smile on her face and touched Jude’s head. I pushed one more time good and remember her yelling “I can feel his nose!” Finally, his head was completely out and I took a quick break to gather myself. I felt another contraction coming and pushed as hard as I could, finally bringing the beautiful boy earth side into her hands. She handed him to me so she could jump into the pool, as Donavan ripped off his shirt and joined. I handed Jude back to Kelsey and felt such joy!
Inexplicable joy. We did it. We gave them a son. I’ve never felt so good about something I’d done in my entire life. I hadn’t even taken a second to look at him or see what I had just done, beyond the smiles on their faces and the tears in their eyes. Jude’s cord was very short, so movement was limited. At one point, I ended up sitting on Kelsey’s lap making the remark I was sitting on Santa’s lap. Justin then told Alexa to play “Hey Jude” by the Beatles.
I’m not sure when, but I remember finally looking at Jude and seeing his mole. The same mole Remy has, but on his chest. That mole is what broke me. I knew he’d likely look like Remy, but the mole snapped something inside me and all of a sudden Jude became Remy to me. Of course I didn’t realize all of this at the time, it took several days of reflecting trying to figure out how I could ever feel sadness around a decision I’d made for myself. Around something so incredibly good, and awesome.
It took far longer than my norm for the placenta to detach and deliver. It ended up around 52 minutes after he was born, and we had set a time limit of one hour after birth. It was a bit scary. I was minutes away from transferring to the hospital, when finally, my body contracted and the placenta released. When I climbed out of the pool, I left Donavan and Kelsey to enjoy their first moments with their son alone and went to shower. I don’t recall having any thoughts during that shower, I just felt unnatural. I wasn’t supposed to be showering right now. I was supposed to be tending to my new baby. Smelling him and soaking up all of his awesomeness. It was a very weird feeling.
I will leave my version of the story here. The rest of what happened that night was beautiful, but it isn’t my beauty to share. It’s theirs. It fills me both with sheer joy and complete heartache. But again, that’s OK. I’m allowed to feel both, so that is what I will do. I will feel a full range of emotions every single day, until one day I no longer do. I look forward it. Receiving Jude’s birth certificate, signing adoption papers, and walking away from a train that carried my flesh and blood away from me were indescribably hard. I can only think of one word to explain how it felt to me: Unnatural. Worth it? Absolutely. We love you Jude. Forever.