I have been so excited to share Esther’s birth story for the past two weeks. I finally have some time to sit down and type it all out. Let me start by giving some background info. In 2008, when I was pregnant with Elle at just 22 years old, I planned for a more natural birth experience. I spent 24 hours laboring with no pain medication but had not dilated beyond 4cm. Due to my exhaustion and Brett’s impending football schedule, my doctor suggested I try an epidural to rest and preserve some of my strength for when it came time to push.
Some may hear that and assume, because I was in a hospital, I was bullied into an epidural. Let me assure you, it was just the opposite. Elle’s heart rate had been showing distress and we all knew Brett had to get to football the next day and could end up missing the birth. This was a special circumstance in which our life and her birth revolved around Brett’s work, not the other way around. I agreed to the epidural, enjoyed three hours of rest, then Elle’s heart rate stopped and I was rushed to an emergency cesarean surgery (better known as a c-section) that saved her life. I learned later that had I not had the epidural in, they would have had to put me to sleep and I would have missed Elle’s birth. To this day, I am so grateful for the epidural that allowed me to be present for her birth and the surgery that saved my daughter’s life!
I was, however, a bit disappointed that I didn’t get my more “natural” birthing experience. Six months later, when we discovered we were pregnant with Johnny, I began asking doctors about a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). I wanted to try again. While these are allowed and work well sometimes, both of the doctors I spoke to told me it was absolutely unsafe to do a VBAC so shortly after a cesarean as Johnny was born only 14 months after Elle. Risks included rupturing my incisions (internally or externally) that could result in the death of baby or mom. We planned the c-section date and made arrangements around football again, choosing to be thankful for the ability to plan.
Johnny then decided to make his debut in complete Johnny style arriving a month early in the middle of a random Monday night! His c-section delivery was completely different than Elle’s. While it was considered “emergency” it wasn’t a life or death situation and therefore wasn’t as rushed. It was a slower, quieter experience that I wasn’t yet prepared for. At the time, we were dealing with major crisis in our personal lives and to be surprised by this so early when we had a different plan in place (that included a lot of needed support) was very traumatic. I felt alone and unprepared. My doctor was incredible and Johnny’s actual birth was amazing, but some issues like a difficult nurse situation, etc. left me feeling the trauma of an early birth followed by Johnny ending up in the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) because his lungs weren’t fully developed. To top it off, 8 days after his birth, Johnny’s doctors told us they thought he may have a spinal disorder that would leave him unable to “walk or run or do anything like a normal little boy”. Eventually, Johnny was miraculously healed, but I’ll share more about that later!
After Johnny was born, we decided we were done. My pregnancies were very difficult and now my body had gone through two c-section births, which is major surgery! Our personal life was still in crisis and life in the NFL was always chaos and unknown. I asked my doctor to “tie my tubes” and, thankfully, he refused explaining I was too young and he’d seen this pattern in NFL families too often and they always regret permanent surgeries after football ends. I am so thankful that I actually listened (even though I was sure he was wrong at the time).
With all that said, when we decided to have more children, we had a lot of decisions to make and history to consider. It had now been seven years since my last surgery so considering a VBAC was totally reasonable. As Brett and I discussed and prayed and sought wisdom, he explained many times that he did not have peace about the VBAC option. My current doctor explained that she felt we could absolutely do a natural birth but also explored the c-section option with us. As we were discussing it, I welled up with tears and realized I still had some unresolved trauma from my previous two births. That time in our life was hard and filled with a lot of crisis and heartbreak. Now, we were headed into our third birth after losing two children to miscarriage the year before. It all felt like a lot and I needed a support team. As we explained this all to our doctor, she synced with us, validated it all, and then vowed to make it her “personal mission to make this the best c-section experience, if that is what you choose to do.” This gave me a lot of peace that she was an advocate for me just like Brett and now I could start working on my part as well.
After seeking some personal ministry, I knew I needed to intentionally invite Jesus into this experience. I know He was at my last two deliveries, as He protected my children and saved their lives. But my relationship with my Savior was very new back then. I wanted to go through each step of this third delivery with Him, allowing the Prince of Peace to guard and protect me while also redeeming and restoring old trauma and hurts. We explained our desires for the surgery, to have worship music playing among other requests and made a plan with our doctor (who is not a believer but was absolutely in support of our beliefs and desires).
The morning of my scheduled c-section, I woke at 3:30am so excited for the day that we had awaited for 21 months. I was finally going to meet my Esther, a living full-term baby! We left the house early and drove to the same hospital where I’d been exactly 12 months and 18 months earlier for surgeries to remove the dead bodies of my last two children from my womb. We pulled up to the same entrance, at the same early hour of the day and registered with the same unsuspecting receptionist. I prayed and asked Holy Spirit to go ahead of us and make a way for us to walk in favor, peace, and ease. That is absolutely what happened. As we walked through the same hospital where we had our two losses, I realized God wasn’t just redeeming old deliveries, but even our miscarriages. Every detail of our morning retraced the steps of some of our most painful memories, restoring it to joyful memories of receiving our beautiful daughter. Even the staff treated us with the utmost tenderness and kindness and we were able to share about all six of our children with them, inviting them into God’s goodness in the day!
Getting ready to meet our little lady!
When I went back to the operating room, the most wonderful nurses and anesthesiologist walked me through each step with clarity and gentleness. An angelic woman came to me during my prep and explained that her name is Madonna and she’s going to hold me while they put in my spinal. She fixed my hair net, made eye contact with me, talked me through the whole process and held me with her arms. I’m honestly not sure she wasn’t an angel as I never saw her again after that and no one else ever spoke to her. Once I was situated on the table, we had a quiet moment while they waited for medicine to start working and I prayed aloud and asked Jesus to show me where He was in the room. I immediately saw Him on my left side with one hand on my belly and the other behind my neck, holding my head. I heard Him explain He had both Esther and me covered and we had nothing to be concerned about. I immediately felt tension leave my body and peace overwhelm my mind! I knew this was going to be amazing and my only job was to receive the incredible gift He was about to give me. Brett and my doctor came in at that point. Brett put on the worship music and selected all the songs we’d depended on to get us through our losses. As they began the surgery, my anesthesiologist explained she would walk me through every thing they were doing. She quietly told me what was happening the whole way through. As she explained everything, I realized I didn’t feel at all like these things were happening to me, but that I was a part of it. I felt involved and that this was a team experience led by Jesus. Everything was filled with peace and acute awareness of every detail that was happening.
During my first two c-sections, my body shook uncontrollably during the majority of the surgery because I’d been in labor for so long prior. I prayed and asked Jesus for none of that this time so I could enjoy it and actually hold Esther once she was born. So many little details like that (that were big details for me) were answered and taken care of in this birth. The peace truly surpassed understanding. It was incredible! By the time they were ready to pull her out, my amazing doctor told Brett to get the camera ready and allowed him to photograph Esther’s actual birth. “Emmanuel (God with Us Forever)” by Bryan & Katie Torwalt was playing when Esther was born. She began screaming before they even had her body out and the entire room erupted with laughter and celebration for a healthy and beautiful little girl! They allowed her cord to finish pulsing and handed her directly to me for skin-to-skin cuddles. Brett and I wept with joy and doted over her the entire time our doctor was finishing up. The room was filled with His Presence. It was one of the most supernatural moments we’ve ever experienced!
Esther was placed on me for skin-to-skin immediately after delivery.
Our private time in recovery was so special! I couldn’t stop weeping.
As we were moved to my recovery room, I was able to nurse Esther and she immediately took to it. After nursing for 20 minutes on one side, she did another 26 minutes on the other. We spent the full two hours holding her, blessing her, and enjoying her. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t exhausted or traumatized, I was simply full of love and delight! Contrary to how cesarean births are often described, I delighted in the most joyous, peaceful, presence-filled, birthing experience and recovery. As soon as we were moved to our actual room, Elle and Johnny were brought to meet their new baby sister and they joined in the incredible moment! As a family of five that has been through hell and back, we fully received and delighted in the gift of life together for hours.
The moment they’d been waiting for!
Our King is truly the most wonderful person. He is intentional and always at work on our behalf. He doesn’t miss a single detail. He is in the business of redemption and restoration ALWAYS! No matter what you’ve been through, no matter the disappointments, traumas, or heartache you’ve endured, He is currently, and always has been, at work to bless you and resurrect your dreams and hopes. Don’t let the pains of your past hold you back from the freedom promised in your future. And, ladies, do not box in birthing experiences by saying that only “all-natural” and/or pain free births are supernatural. The word supernatural, by definition, is about being above or beyond what is natural, unexplainable by natural law or phenomena. By nature, I should have endured many hard issues going through a major surgery such as a cesarean delivery. Instead, I invited the King of Kings, Prince of Peace, my Savior and Redeemer to lead the way and He created a beautiful and supernatural birthing experience for me that not only redeemed my previous disappointments in birth but also restored joy where we had endured horrific loss. He is THAT good and He is not limited by any boundaries. His goodness is empowered by our words, however, so please speak life, celebration, and encouragement over every woman and her birth experience and choice, even if it’s one you don’t understand.
In closing, I am writing about my birthing experience because it was simply wonderful and I want to share the goodness of God! But also, I have noticed a trend of upholding natural births above others and heard comments that (I trust) are not meant to put others down but may carry a tone of superiority. So my sharing my story does have another purpose. I would love to see women be intentional to encourage and to celebrate every birth experience equally because it brought LIFE into the world, and not because we did it without pain management, surgery, or other medical intervention (that often times saves the lives of baby or mama as it did in my case with Elle). If we did this, how many women would feel empowered and celebrated for their victory of co-creating and birthing life rather than somehow less-than because their experience didn’t look like someone else’s?
Much love and blessings to all the mamas out there: those who are raising their children, birthing their children, have lost their children, or are desperately awaiting their children. I hope to see us all partner with the freedom Jesus paid for to celebrate our individuality as we share both our triumphs and trials in vulnerability and love!
She was so worth the wait.