A Beautiful Agony

Two weeks ago today, the most life changing event of my life took place. It's a story I feel I must tell in detail and yet I feel completely inadequate in expressing the depth of pain and beauty in the story.  It's like taking a picture of a sunset.  No camera can capture the incredible beauty in that vibrant sky.  And yet, we all continue to take pictures of the sunset, hoping that just this once we'll be able to capture the glorious sky and be able to take it "with us". I feel the same way about this story.  I hope that as I write and then read and reread the story later, that I can in some way encapsulate the wonder of it all and take that with me for life. 

It all started nine months ago with a positive pregnancy test, followed by eighteen more positive pregnancy tests (to confirm the status of the first).  I was finally convinced that I was indeed pregnant. Isn't it funny how we are so quick to doubt the very things we hope and dream of?

The next three months were spent trying to find something to eat that my stomach wouldn't revolt against. All scents except laundry detergent were repulsive to me.  Netflix and the couch were my two best friends. After three months of this misery, the morning sickness cloud lifted and I could breath and eat in peace again.  From that point until week thirty-six of pregnancy, growing a human being was for the most part, a breeze.  I had a good reason to take extra good care of myself.  I ate well, walked a few miles every day, relaxed in the sun every afternoon and went to bed early.

At week thirty-six Jadon and I found out that Baby Girl Ross was in the breech position.  Since day one of pregnancy, I knew I wanted to give birth to this baby 100% naturally.  I was working with Treasure Valley Midwives and was planning to deliver this little bundle in the comfort of my own home.  My reasoning for doing all of this is more that just a preference, it's a belief, a conviction, something I've poured hours of time into researching and learning about. Finding out that "Kugupu" (our name for Baby Girl Ross until we got to meet her in person) was breech was very disheartening.  For starters, the midwives don't deliver breech babies, and vaginal breech delivery is not routinely practiced in hospitals in Idaho.  Every state is different and we just happened to be in a state that defers all breech deliveries to a C-section.

There are many things you can do to try and turn a breech baby and so I dutifully did them all.  I tried 2 External Cephalic Versions,  chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture, Moxibustion, head stands, inversions, ice on the baby's head...everything.  
Hooked up to monitors, getting ready for my first External Version
Pregnancy headstand 

At 38.5 weeks I was feeling desperate.  This baby was going to be here soon and I didn't know where I was going to deliver her.  I called hospitals, birth centers and midwives all over Idaho, Utah and Oregon.  I had a very promising lead in Portland and started moving in that direction. In Portland, Vaginal Breech Delivery is making a comeback.  Doctors and Midwives are actively pursuing making these deliveries more normal in all states.  They are training doctors to deliver breech babies and one midwife I found teaches clinics on breech deliveries all over the state of Oregon.  After much prayer and investigation, Jadon and I planned to head to Oregon in week 39.5 of pregnancy so that I could have a natural breech delivery.

With this plan in place, I went to bed on July 26th with not a care in the world.  I was dreaming of my "destination delivery", thankful to have found this option and excited about the outcome.  The morning of July 27th started too early.  Jadon got a phone call at 5:00 a.m. from the funeral home he works for as a part time job. Within the next 15 minutes he was up and out the door headed on a body pickup.  I had been chilling all night long and so I got up and put a blanket in the dryer and then crawled back in bed with the hot blanket, hoping to sleep another hour.

6:00 a.m. rolled around and it was time to get up and start the day.  Jadon planned to be home from the body call by 7:00 a.m. so we could take our normal morning walk together.  As I got dressed, made the bed, took the dog out and all the normal morning stuff I realized I was having some legitimate contractions.  Not just Braxton Hicks.  Slight pain would radiate through my lower back and into my legs.  The pain would build and then ease off and be completely gone.  I knew that contractions like this could go on for hours or days and I was sure it was just a fluke that I was feeling them today.  By 7:00 a.m. Jadon was home and we left the house to walk the dog.  About 1/4 mile into our walk as I was just telling Jadon that I had been having some contractions I felt a POP and then a GUSH!!!  I froze and looked at Jadon wide eyed, "I'm 100% sure my water just broke." I said.  We were both taken off guard.  We were supposed to be in Portland for this.  We debated continuing our walk, and then another GUSH gave us our answer and we quickly headed home.

Once home, I quickly called the midwives I was working with and they directed me to come in and be checked to make sure it was my water breaking and confirm the position of the baby one last time.  By 8:00 we were meeting with them and they confirmed that it was my water breaking (which I was already 100% sure of) and then they checked to see how far I was dilated so Jadon and I would know how soon this baby was coming.

To our utter shock and amazement, the midwives told me that I was dilated 6 cm. I don't think we even responded to that information; just stared back at them in disbelief. They told us, "You're not going anywhere else to have this baby, you are going to have her right here, and she is coming soon!" All of my hard work in searching for the right birth location flew out the window as we only had one option. That was to go to the hospital, decline a C-section, and pray for a doctor that knew how to deliver breech babies.

Treasure Valley Midwives were wonderful in supporting us. They quickly printed off all of my records and called the hospital to let them know that I was coming in for a vaginal breech delivery. I think the words, "Prepare yourselves," were part of that conversation. If there had been time Jadon and I both would have had a melt down or a freak out. But since there wasn't... we had to quickly change our plans to get ready to head to the hospital, St. Luke's Downtown.

Before heading home to pack up what we needed, we bought some snacks and stopped to get some breakfast at River City Cafe. I wasn't about to go through labor without having something good to eat! I got a Raspberry Muffin and a Peach Scone. This may have been my attempt to Carb-Load in two hours. I also insisted on taking a shower once we got home and doing my hair and make up before we headed to the hospital because I wanted some good pictures during the labor! In my head, I equated this venture to a race, where feeling confident about how I look plays into my performance. Labor really is a mind game, and I think in the future I will use this tactic as well. We snapped a few parting pictures of my "baby bump", knowing that it wasn't going to be around much longer. Then we jumped in our VW Jetta and headed to the hospital.
Making plans with my mom before heading to the hospital 
Packed and ready to go
Another complication to this whole endeavor was that my mom, who is my birth doula, was 4 hours away in Utah finishing up a birth with another woman! The moment that she found out I was headed into the hospital she started driving our way in hopes of making it on time to help me through part of labor. The entire scenario was far from how I had anticipated Kugupu's birth going. Without my mom, I felt a bit alone.  She was going to walk me through this.  We had talked about it and I KNEW she KNEW what she was doing, even if I didn't.  Well, God knew this too and so He provided.  Paula, the head of Treasure Valley Midwives, called before we reached the hospital and said she had done some investigating and found out that the on-call doctor was the best doctor at St. Luke's, she was even familiar with breech delivery. WOW! God is good!  Then she even offered to meet us at the hospital and be with us until my mom arrived.  WOW again! Of course I said, YES!!! I started this journey with Paula and I trusted her.  The thought of having her there at St. Luke's was SO comforting.

By 11:30 we were walking into St. Luke's.  I remember stopping multiple times on our way in, to breath through a contraction.  They were starting to get stronger and talking or moving during them was out of the question.  I remember telling Jadon that I didn't want to have to "rate" the pain if they asked me too.  I didn't know how bad the pain could get, so "rating" it was only setting myself for failure.  What if, this felt like a 6 on a scale of 1-10, but then it became so severe that it was way off the chart...say, a seventeen, I'd be overwhelmed by it and want to stop fighting.

Thanks to Treasure Valley Midwives calling ahead, our check in was quick.  We were escorted to our "labor room" and our nurse came to introduce herself.  Her name was Jennifer and she was immediately TOO CHATTY for me.  She rambled on and on about the room, the lighting, how the bed worked, where the ice machine was, yadda yadda yadda.  I was just trying to breathe through the next contraction and wasn't feeling very friendly.  I tried to be pleasant but honestly have no idea how I responded to her.  Finally, she left and we had a few minutes with Paula who was already there.  She was reassuring of my decision to decline a C-Section and a calming influence in general.  The next visitor to our room was Dr.  Marietta Thompson.  She was all business and didn't mince words when it came to telling us that St. Luke's wasn't a fan of our decision to have a vaginal breech delivery.  She told me she knew I had already made up my mind but still had to tell me the risks involved.  Jadon and I listened to what we already knew and then signed the papers stating that our minds were still made up about the breech delivery.  Once we had done that, Dr. Thompson's "vibe" changed.  She told us she was familiar was breech deliveries from years of working in Iowa before she came to Boise.  She let me know that the baby and I were ideal candidates for this, and she was very optimistic about the outcome.  Now THAT was encouraging!

The next two hours were filled with mild contractions, questions from nurses, paperwork, baby position checks and other hospital protocol. We were probably told the same thing by 4 different people and asked the same questions six different times.  

One moment, that stands out is when the nurse asked me if there was anything they could do to help bring my Christian beliefs into the room. I told her I wanted all the nurses to sing hymns. She didn't really catch the sarcastic humor and just did an awkward laugh. Then she asked Jadon how I learned things best, and he said, "flannel-graph". I wanted to bust up laughing but I was in the middle of getting through a contraction. Once again she didn't catch the humor. Her loss... 

At 2:00 p.m. My mom arrived. I've never been so thrilled to see someone. She was exhausted from being up all night at the previous birth, but so glad to have made it on time. 

One crucial part of a successful breech delivery was that I would need to progress in a timely manner. Because of that, I started doing everything I could to use the contractions for my benefit. From 2 o'clock till 4 o'clock I went from doing squats and lunges during contractions, to being down on the floor in a frog position.
My mom taking notes while I worked through contractions
Trying to get things moving
In between contractions
At 3 o'clock I felt a noticeable difference. The contractions were starting to get harder and every one took a little bit more out of me. I kept my eyes closed through each one as they were getting worse. I had to put myself in another place mentally to handle it. At this point I could still talk some between contractions. They were lasting almost 3 minutes with 90 seconds in between. Despite the pain, I definitely didn't want anybody to touch me; and I yelled to Jadon  to make that clear. 

At 4 o'clock another doctor came in to see how far I was dilated. I got up went to the bathroom and then laid down on the bed.  Moving even that much was excruciating. To our relief I had dilated to a 7. After moving to the bed there was no way I was going to get up to move again. So that's were I stayed for the next 4 hours.

If you choose to go through labor naturally there's no way of knowing how you personally will deal with the pain. From what I've heard some women cry, some woman scream, some women cuss, some women writhe in pain, and some women run around... I'm sure the options are endless. I started by choosing to do something I'd like to call "the running man". I was laying on my back with one hand holding onto each bed rail, when a contraction would hit I would start running my legs while holding onto the bed rails for all my life. I was pretty much unaware that I was doing this as all of my concentration was on breathing. This "running man" Scenario repeated itself every few minutes as a contraction would hit until about 5 o'clock. 

I thought the transition from 3 to 4 o'clock had been hard but the transition at 5 o'clock was much more difficult. All of my labor had been back labor and now I was about to experience pain starting in my back and radiating through my body that I didn't even know existed. I rolled over to my right side and held the handle the right hand rail with both hands. My eyes were still closed at this point as they had been the entire time. 5 o'clock to 8 o'clock is pretty much a blur of pain. My legs started shaking uncontrollably, I started to sweat, I puked after every single contraction. My mom taught me in our birth class that breathing is the most important thing to get through pain. Boy was she right! Breathing and mental stamina were my two greatest weapons. I had to completely separate myself from every other aspect of life in order to get through the pain. I refuse to allow myself to attach to the pain to emotion. I couldn't be angry or sad or overwhelmed. Those thoughts would start to creep in and I had to push them away. There was nothing I could do to change the situation I was in, so labeling them would only make me feel it more. 

The calm between the storms.
There was no time between contractions to do anything other than puke and collapse in exhaustion for a few moments. At one point I was trying to sprint ahead of my contractions in an imaginary race... Trying to get ahead of them with each breath. I also pictured myself climbing a mountain as a contraction would build and then come back down. I am told that I was pulling on the bed rails so hard they looked like they would fall off. Others in the room stepped in to help me get through every moment. My mom was in front of me coaching me through every breath. Jadon was behind me, breathing and rubbing my lower back. Paula was holding onto one leg lifting it as a contraction would hit to help things continue to progress.  Jennifer was holding my other leg and helping me to relax as soon as a contraction was over. When even one person was gone from their station I felt alone and the pain became even more overwhelming. It really was a team effort at this point. Because this was a breech baby, it was of ultra importance that I didn't push at all but only breathe through every contraction. I can't begin to explain how difficult that is. It truly is torture. By blowing your air out after each breath you can keep yourself from pushing, but it's the most unnatural an uncomfortable feeling in the entire world. Some contractions I would kill, I would breathe perfectly through them, and the team around me would would bolster me up with praise. It was hard to do two of these contractions perfectly in a row though. The mental strength that it would take was completely exhausting. 

I know ultra runners speak of entering the pain cave, but I doubt there is any cave as dark or as deep as the labor pain cave.  I wanted to cry so badly. I wanted to crawl up into my mom's lap and have her hold me like a little baby. I prayed to God in my head that He would give me more time to catch my breath after every contraction, but He never did. As the pain would begin I would think to myself "I can't do this",  then I quickly had to change my thinking into "I will do this"... I had no other choice. Then after far too long the pain would ebb, I would puke and crumple, already dreading the start of the next wave. 

Time seemed to stand still, and yet  eventually it was 7:25 p.m. and Dr. Thompson came in to check me again. I was complete!!! I had finally dilated to a 10!!! Bad news followed though, Dr. Thompson said she wanted me to breathe through another 30 minutes of contractions before they would let me push. If I'd had the energy to cuss her out I would have. I moaned somewhere deep inside myself, and then had to stop as my feelings were cut off by another wave of pain. 

Going from breathing to pushing is like shifting gears, there comes a point where the engine is going to SCREAM for you too shift if you keep speeding up. Being fully dialated and not allowed to push was like trying to drive down the interstate in 1st gear. I felt like I was going to explode inside.  Despite the amazing discomfort, Dr. Thompson was wise to have me do this. She wanted the baby to shift down on her own so that when I did push the baby would come out quickly. There is a risk of breech babies getting stuck in the birth canal. So allowing that extra time was the right thing to do. 

At this point  things started to get exciting. Jadon, my mom, Paula, and everyone else in the labor room started putting on scrubs. I had to go into the OR room to push and have the baby delivered. Dr. Thompson was just doing this as a precaution. She wanted the anesthesiologist and NICU present in case there were any complications. My team of four helpers did an amazing job of changing clothes while still helping me through every contraction. 

At about 7:40 p.m. I was being wheeled into the OR room. The room was white and sterile and filled with people. Everyone was standing by waiting to make sure everything went okay. Talk about an audience. The worst part about being switched to the OR room was having to move on to a different bed. I hadn't moved since 4 o'clock and just lifting my body from one bed to the next caused more pain that I was already dealing with. The operating table was flat and didn't have any bed rails, there was no longer anything to hold onto. Even at this point Dr. Thompson told me not to push yet. I was okay with that though because I knew we were close. This pain would not last forever. I assumed there was a baby on the other side and yet doubted it at the same time. Pain so all-consuming can make the prize seem irrelevant. 

After three or four contractions I was finally given the go-ahead to push! Hallelujah!!! Never have I desired more pain so badly. I knew a baby coming out couldn't feel good but anything to relieve the pressure of contractions sounded better than I was currently dealing with. 

If I could make light stream down from heaven and Angels sing, this is the moment that would start. Jadon and my mom would lift my shoulders up off the bed to give me a little more umph. Paula was holding one leg and some guy I had never seen before was holding my other leg. As the contraction would start I was allowed to push for all I was worth.  I managed to fit three or four pushes into one contraction. After two pushing contractions, Dr. Thompson said you can reach down and feel your baby. I put my hand down and sure enough, there was something coming out of my body. It felt like part of me but yet I couldn't feel it. I was in awe and horrified at the same time. Another pushing contraction and Dr. Thompson said now you can see your baby. "No I can't!", I yelled, "Someone's hand is in the way!" Paula quickly moved her hand and there sticking out of my body was something about the size of a loaf of bread. The baby was Frank Breech, meaning she was folded in half, with her butt coming out first. I gasped out of both pain and disbelief.  It's very unreal to see something like that coming out of your own body. Once Baby Ross was out up to the bellybutton, Dr. Thompson pulled her legs out and around. Another push and everything was out but her head. I haven't mentioned the pain yet associated with pushing, but as my sister once told me, imagine pooping out a watermelon... Okay you get it. 

We all waited breathlessly for my next contraction to hit, knowing that this would be the final one before Baby Ross was all the way out. At last that contraction came and I pushed again with everything I had. Burning pain was quickly washed away by the sound of a little girl's cry. Within seconds a crying little baby, covered in Vernix, was handed up to me. Immediately every glimmer of pain was gone and I was utterly in love with this little girl. She was trembling, I was trembling, but as I held her I think we both knew everything was going to be okay. Jadon leaned over and hugged us both. I think we both were crying.  What a glorious moment! Her little hands, her little feet, everything about her was perfect. She clung to me and I clung to her, both of us glad that the pain was over and we were at last together. This instantaneous transition to motherhood was more than just a label. I was ready to do anything and everything to love her, protect her and take care of her. 

Dr. Thompson took care of medical things on the other end of my body. Delivering the placenta, making sure my uterus was starting to contract, checking for tears and stopping the bleeding. All of this took second fiddle to this beautiful little girl in my arms. The aftershocks of pain were now background noise. This little girl had my full attention. 

An hour later and I was back in my room, nursing with Jadon by my side. We were both exhausted and hungry but very happy! Our little Charlotte Timber Ross was here, in our arms...what a Beautiful Agony this had been!


  1. What a beautiful story! Blessings to you and your family.


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