As typical with me and with pregnancy, my due date came and went without any super promising signs of labor. After May 9th passed, I had a couple of nights of steady contractions that I was sure would turn into the real deal that fizzled into nothing. Danny and I walked every evening. Even when the weather was bad I would walk laps at the mall or in our front hall over and over. It was clear that baby Cedar was showing up only on his time.
The last year has really been unlike any other in my life as a wife and a mom. It has truly been ninety-to-nothing. It has been hustling in driving all over the state for medical appointments, therapies, dance lessons, piano, karate, football..running a business…ministry. It has left no space for reflection, which is where all of my creativity flows from. It’s when I’m able to write and think about life- both things that are a really big part of who I am. But praise God, there’s grace for every season as long as we abide in the arena God has called us to, right? By mid April I was feeling really emotionally and physically tired. I made the decision to cut off everything while we waited on baby Cedar to arrive. We halted all therapies and extra activities. I slowed down in my business to a snail’s pace in order to just spend some time unwinding. It took me about 2 1/2- 3 weeks of forcing myself to do very little other than the necessary to get to a place where my heart and mind were clear and I began to feel like myself again. I needed that so much more than I knew at the time.
The Lord opened up some things in my heart that I needed to surrender to him all over again. I could feel gratitude rising up in me during this “forced rest.” I began to feel hopeful in the middle of some other things that I had grown very weary in. I think I needed some surrender and thankfulness to come alive in me again before I was ready to add Cedar to the mix and Jesus knew it.
On the night of May 17th I went to bed with a much more crampy,, deep- seated feeling that was very different from the weeks of big Braxton hicks contractions I’d had going on for weeks. I could tell something felt different and I hoped it meant labor was coming.
In the middle of the night some contractions woke me up and I would doze in and out of what felt like steady, building contractions. By 7AM I was pretty sure that these were developing into something more. I told Danny that I felt like we should go ahead and get the kids squared away somewhere because things were getting more real. Before the kids left we all prayed together, and we told our Reedlings that we thought they just might be getting another brother that very day.
I decided to stay on my feet and I commenced to scrubbing our entire house. I could tell the contractions were picking up but I also always doubt myself so I kept wondering if it was just another false alarm. I gave my midwife a text to let her know that it might be Labor Day and kept cleaning. Around lunchtime I became pretty confident that we were having a baby that day, no doubt. I made the necessary calls and Danny began setting up the birth pool in our bedroom while I continued to walk around and get things done. Over the next couple of hours things picked it up a notch and I was definitely having to work through the contractions more and more.
Around 4PM my birth team was all there. By 5PM I was really having to verbalize through the contractions. I decided to soak in the tub in my bathroom. Danny turned up my favorite worship tunes and I was able to rest. There was peace between the contractions but there was no being quiet during them. The contractions were coming with more heat and I’d have to let out that low-humming to get through them.
I find it so strange how different one birth can be from another. My first natural birth was a hospital water birth and it was so incredibly easy, by comparison, with the last two home births I’ve had. That first natural birth, the contractions seemed quite light. Amaus was literally crowning and I was still cracking jokes and asking for drinks. It was very supernatural. This birth, and my last one were not that way. Maybe it’s that when you get a bit older and you’ve already accomplished that first natural birth, which felt like completing an amazing marathon for the first time- you’ve received all the “glory” from it you likely ever will. By the second natural birth you don’t want to hang up a gold star for yourself anymore- you just want to experience the rawness of your child entering the world in the way they were meant to, and you want to get through to the prize, your child, at the end. You want to put in the work as quickly as possible and be on the other side celebrating. You see birth in more of a reality and that reality is purposeful hard work. You still believe in it in the same way you did the first time- but it’s not because it’s dreamy and seems like a good idea. It’s because you believe it’s best.
Whatever the reason, there was no escaping off into fantasy land during contractions as if they weren’t really there during this labor. All that I could do was mentally tell myself to make it through each individual one and then try to soak up the break without thinking of the next one. My mind was constantly going back to the long road I grew up walking and running on in the summertime. There was a huge oak tree in the middle of the trek and it was always my break point. “Just make it to that tree,” I’d tell myself, when I was running down that hot Louisiana road in an attempt to build some endurance and get into better shape. That long, hot road was all I could see when I closed my eyes during the heat of those latter contractions. When I shut my eyes, there I was running on Cash Bayou road again. I’d tell myself, “Just make it to that tree. You’re almost there. Just make it to that tree…”
After soaking in my bathroom for about two hours I decided to see if I could hang with a few contractions standing up. I knew that would cause the intensity of labor to increase but bring me quicker to the end, too. I got out of my bathtub and stood by my bed for about three incredibly tough contractions. Danny prayed for me and stood with me.
I moved into the birth tub and waited for the next contractions to come. I could tell we were crossing over and that the contractions had shifted into the final pushing contractions. I believe this phase of labor lasted about 45 minutes. It was hard. But the warm water of the birth tub gave me some help relaxing between contractions. I moved over to my side and hung one arm outside of the birthing tub where I clenched Danny’s hand. I couldn’t let go.
I was at that place of no return where your mind can’t really grasp reality and it takes everything in you to stay focused. There’s no better positions here. There’s no other solutions or way around the obvious. It’s only riding the waves and letting them drag you along as they desire. Fighting them makes it much tougher…so you let go and let those primal noises and instincts rise up, while any form of grace and tact and care of appearances flies away and all you care about is surviving and finally holding your reward.
The pushing phase of labor lasted much longer than it ever has for me. Even after Cedar’s head was born, it took several contractions for his body to be born. It turns out, it’s because he had quite the wrapped up cord; which was tightly around his neck, between his legs, and around one arm. My midwife had me stand up immediately where she quickly loosed the cord around his neck and untangled him. (Nuchal cords are extremely common in birth and are not typically a medical emergency as most people often assume. Around 25-30% of all births involve a nuchal cord! I’ve attended several births with a nuchal cord, which is typically handled just as my midwife handled it- by unwrapping the cord. 🙂 Since the babe is still getting oxygen from the placenta while the placenta is still attached, the baby is not “strangled” by the cord. There are cases where the cord needs to be cut quickly- but thankfully that was not the case for us, and we were able to leave our baby Cedar attached to his cord until he had received that super blood transfusion that babies receive in delayed cord clamping.)
As soon as I realized labor was over and everything was good, such a major release came over me. All I could do was weep and thank Jesus for the beautiful treasure in front of me. I can’t express how all of the nine months behind me all paled instantly when I saw Cedar’s face. My precious son. I couldn’t get over the honor and blessing I felt knowing that God had trusted us with this beautiful little one to raise up. I’m still rocking in the wake of it. And by the way, there’s nothing sweeter than the soft, fuzzy head of a newborn under your chin. I’ll never get over it.
I learned some things in this birth. Sometimes a new journey, a promise given or a call, when it’s new, fills us with excitement and adventure. When we first begin a journey that involves a wait, we often feel refreshed and enthusiastic about the steps ahead. When time goes by though, our feet can get weary. We wonder when we will get to the end of the wait. We wonder if we have the strength to keep going. We wonder where God’s presence is, which felt so incredibly prevalent in the early days in our wait, yet now doesn’t feel so present at all. The dreaminess has been sucked out of our vision and we see our time in this wait as what it can be…hard work.
But with or without the dreamy feelings and over-the-top enthusiasm, Jesus is with us for every step just like He promised he always would be. I believe some of our greatest growth comes from walking by faith even in those seasons where we don’t feel it, yet we keep marching forward by faith. We may be in the middle of our most difficult days, hanging onto a promise that we know for certain Jesus has given us. Whether we feel it or whether we are just having to cling to that promise while the waves are blowing us back and forth, one day we will get to the end of that battle and that wait. Jesus will surely do everything He promised He would. We will look down into the face of that promise fulfilled and we will only be able to weep with joy. The battle, the work and the struggle will feel like an instant in the light of God’s faithfulness to complete everything He’s promised..
I’m so grateful for a God who holds my hand through it all, and I am so grateful for my little Cedar Harrell.
But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the LORD’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.