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Because of Her Joy: Carissa's Hospital Water Birth of Zelie Grace


I was more than ready for baby number two to make their grand entrance into the world. I hit my due date on Monday, March 15 and started counting the days and trying all of the same natural induction strategies as the last time. Lots of walking & moving, more dates than I care to eat ever again, extra cups of red raspberry leaf tea, evening primrose oil capsules, one more in-home prenatal massage, chiropractic adjustment, a really amazing spa pedicure with hot stone massage, and a few more.


I was feeling quite at peace and not stressed yet as I totally believed the baby would come before 41 weeks. I was soaking in the extra rest and time with my 16 month old Teressa Joy and enjoying our last few days as a family of three. We spent time at parks, swim lessons, taking family walks at night, and some grocery shopping to get prepared. I was more excited than anxious and looking forward to making it to the hospital in time for a water birth. During the last months of pregnancy, I was taking long hot lavender baths in our newly renovated basement bathroom, drinking raspberry leaf tea, eating popcorn, and watching as many water birth videos as I could, crying every single time and dreaming with hopeful anticipation, wonder, and excitement.


On the evening of March 18, we went to a nearby park as a family when I met a new friend with her two under two. It gave me hope and we promised to reconnect after birth. Only later I found out that she was my neighbor! I also found out later that she nicknamed me the “fertility princess” as I was running through the field pregnant with flowers in my hair looking ever so joyful and peaceful, completely unaware that I would go into labor the following morning. Let me make a note here that I did NOT in the least feel that glorious- although I do appreciate the love!


Maybe I had a few contractions in the night but I don’t remember them as I was fast asleep and resting peacefully. I think I might have had some dreams with sharp pains, but not enough to wake me up. Because of the recent time change, Teressa had been sleeping until almost 11 a.m. each day that week, which was an incredible gift for me to sleep in before baby arrived. My husband Sean was working from home and had a very busy day of meetings that he was not looking forward to. I had many Braxton Hicks throughout the week and lots of crampiness so I wasn’t taking them too seriously, unless I started noticing a pattern. I texted him around 9 a.m. while I was still in bed, that I had what I thought to be a contraction but not to get excited yet and that this could go on all day. He told his work team and took the rest of the day off to start his four weeks of paternity leave. In retrospect, I am so glad he did because things picked up quite quickly.


I had been planning to take Teressa to my Saint Brigid mom’s group playdate at a nearby park. I messaged the group around 9:15 a.m., “I’m having some contractions, maybe not the real deal yet, but better to rest up & stay close to home just in case. Will update when we have news."


I went to the bathroom shortly after that and felt some more crampy feelings and another “potential contraction,” but I also thought it could just be constipation. I laid back down on my side on my giant pregnancy pillow to relax and by 10 a.m. felt another contraction that seemed pretty strong. I got up to move around, and almost in an instant, they started picking up, coming every five minutes or so, pretty strong, and about 45 seconds to one minute long.


I called Sean so he could start timing the contractions. He called my mom, and she immediately left her office with her bag packed to come over to watch Teressa. She told us later that she had a dream the night before and was totally prepared and knew that THIS was the day. She even grabbed her makeup that day for the first time, just in case! I messaged back my mom’s group at 10:24am and said, “Yep I’m definitely in labor! Pray for us."


We texted and called both our midwife Carson and our doula Julia, who also supported Teressa’s birth, and said we believed active labor was starting.


10:24 a.m.: Well contractions keep coming… Last few have been five minutes apart & about 45 seconds long so I think it’s safe to say that something is happening… My mom is on her way over to help.


They both started heading to our house for support.


10:34 a.m.: Yes! Things could slow down but they’re literally four minutes apart and almost minute long contractions now.


In between focusing and breathing through each contraction while swaying, I got dressed and ready and finished packing my hospital bag. Sean was running around grabbing the rest of the things on our packing list, including labor snacks and Gatorade. I would yell out “start!” when each contraction started and “done!” when they finished so that he could keep timing them. But after 30 minutes or so we knew it was the real deal, and there was no point to time them anymore. They got stronger and stronger and closer together. I was so happy that Teressa was still fast asleep, and my mom had arrived and started to settle in and help out.


Carson arrived first with a huge smile on her face. She did a cervical check in our bedroom at 11:15 a.m. I was 100% effaced, 7 cm, and baby was -1 station. She said she could feel the baby’s head and a bulging bag of waters, and it was time to go to the hospital now! Talk about quick work! I was a little nervous for the drive but so happy that things were progressing quickly and that I was still in total control of my body and breathing.


I didn’t get to say goodbye to Teressa, but my mom had everything in control. Julia was only three minutes away, but we told her to meet us at the hospital. We walked out to the car, and I had several contractions along the way. I leaned over the passenger side door of Sean’s car, and Carson helped me through another strong contraction while Sean finished loading the final things. I leaned the car seat all the way back and got in, trying to lay on my side with the seatbelt on. This is the worst part… I remembered from last time the iconic awkward drive to the hospital in the middle of daylight. We left our house at 11:23 a.m. I always wonder what the neighbors must think if they peek out the window.


We followed Carson the excruciatingly long 18 minutes to the hospital in Roswell. I tried to take deep breaths, and we prayed Hail Marys the whole way there. Surprisingly, the contractions were less intense as I focused on relaxation, until a very alarming moment about one minute away from the hospital when I realized we had left a very important small bag behind containing birth plan copies, the water birth certificate (which the hospital required to have a water birth), all of the relaxation tools like battery operated candles, Crucifix, Divine Mercy image, essential oil diffuser, massage pads, and music speaker. Literally the bag of JOY! Sean called my mom, and begged her to bring it to the hospital as quickly as possible with Teressa who had just woken up. They saved the day and coordinated everything, and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.


We pulled into the parking lot and Carson and Julia were right there waiting. Contractions were now every two minutes and super intense. I had to keep stopping and leaning onto the car or whatever I could find nearby. We grabbed everything we needed and slowly made our way from the parking lot right into the labor & delivery entrance, where we signed in and had to get our temperatures checked.


We headed straight to triage for the mandatory 30 minute fetal monitoring strip and blood pressure checks. Everything has to go medically perfectly in this room to be allowed a water birth at this hospital. We were so close to our goal! The one big frustration in this birth was Covid protocols messing everything up. I had to take a deep nose dive PCR Covid test, which had to come back negative before they would even start filling up the water birth tub. I heard stories where it could come back anytime between 20 minutes up to 2 hours, depending on the waitlist for that day. I prayed for holy favor! Praise the Lord, the test came back negative in 20 minutes flat, and Carson hurried to get the water birth tub set up in the labor & delivery room while I finished the fetal monitoring.



Julia stayed with me and Sean in triage, encouraging me to stand, move, sway, squat, and breathe deeply through each contraction while Sean gave me counterpressure on my back. She had a few small battery-operated candles that she placed on the bed as my focal point. I started my Gregorian chant Spotify playlist. We dimmed the room lights and offered up prayer intentions for several contractions. My mom arrived with the special bag, and Sean went outside to greet her and thankfully got to give Teressa a kiss. We had our water birth certificate and birth plan just in time! Seriously everything about this birth was “just in time!”


The nurse was a little funny but she grew on me. She kept asking why my heart rate was so high, and I was like, seriously lady, I am going through transition right now. She kept talking a lot and asking unnecessary questions like if I had a will & medical directives with me (ummm nope definitely didn’t know I needed to bring that...), but Julia kept giving me funny expressions and respectfully urging me to ignore distractions, relax, and focus on my rhythmic breathing. She is such a gift! I laughed several times and kept my sense of humor all the way up until this point.


As soon as I passed all the medical tests and everything with baby‘s heartbeat looked great, we got the clearance to head to our delivery room at 12:40 p.m. Waddling the whole short journey there, followed by Sean + Julia + ALL of the bags + labor balls, I stopped for a strong contraction along the wall while the nurses waved and welcomed us. I remember cheering in my heart almost in disbelief that we made it to this point and were arriving to the room where we would meet our baby very soon. This was actually happening! I felt a complete and overwhelming sense of peace and joy, and let out a huge audible sigh of relief as I walked through the door to our sacred birthing space.



We made it! Carson was already filling up the birthing tub and I was so excited to get in, hoping that the warm water would ease some of the labor pains during contractions and also help me move into various positions to speed up labor as well. I stopped every few minutes for strong contractions as I leaned over a nearby couch while Sean or Julia helped me with counterpressure. In between contractions, I was trying to eat some peanut butter for protein and honey for energy, along with lots of sips of water and Gatorade, and even a little bit of cold coffee since I had skipped my morning coffee and was losing energy quickly, along with developing a caffeine headache. I was so so hungry, but snacks were all I could stomach at this point.


We were also setting up the room with the special details: lots of battery-operated candles, a little spiritual altar of sorts with a Crucifix and Divine Mercy image of Jesus, and the essential oil diffuser with drops of joy, valor, and frankincense. My Gregorian chant/Catholic hymn playlist was putting me in a pretty peaceful state. I was still cracking jokes in between contractions and so excited that the birth pool was almost ready for me to get in. One of my favorite things to use in labor is an ice cold bucket filled with lots of washcloths and drops of peppermint oil to help with the nausea. We kept rotating these out the whole rest of labor on my back and neck and forehead and all over my face to keep me cool, calm and focused, along with warding off nausea. I was so thankful that I didn’t throw up this time in labor like I did last time. I didn’t have any more cervical checks but I knew I was going through transition as the contractions were getting super strong and I started feeling small urges to push. Carson jokingly said, “Don’t push that baby out until you get into the water… I’m almost done filling up the tub!” The timing was absolutely beautiful. This baby was coming so fast!


At long last, right at 1:15 p.m. everything was set up, and I walked up the few stairs to be gently guided into the warm birth tub where I felt my body just sink down and melt with happiness and relief as I entered into pushing. The next hour and a half was so intense and focused as I worked through extremely difficult contractions and pushing, but I knew that this was the last hard part of labor before we would meet our little baby. In between each powerful surge where I would grip Sean‘s hands over the outside of the water birth pool and Julia would apply counterpressure on my back, I would lean back and float and relax and listen to the peaceful music in the sacred silence of the room filled with holy anticipation. The nurses and birth support team were so respectful of my wishes for a calm environment and I was so grateful for that space to really focus.



I got so hot from being in the warm water combined with intense labor that my favorite thing was getting fanned like a diva (thanks Julia!) and a water mist spray fan in my face and continuous ice cold washcloths all over my neck and face. Carson checked the heartbeat with an underwater Doppler in between every few contractions to keep a watch on the baby and vital signs. She could also still feel the bulging bag of waters. At one point a tech walked in to “draw my blood for lab work” and Carson nicely sent her away and asked her to please get it later in postpartum…I was definitely so thankful to have her as an advocate on my side.



Carson and Julia reminded me to listen to my body and push when I felt the urge. They didn’t over direct but supported me by being present, and encouraged me when I wanted to give up or go to sleep. I kept saying, “I’m so tired I just want a nap and some good food. Oh and an iced coffee.” I felt so relaxed and drowsy. I mostly preferred being on my hands and knees or on my knees leaning over the side of the tub facing Sean who was on the outside in swim trunks. He was ready to jump in if I wanted him to but I preferred having the ample space to myself to move and float around. I held both his hands so tightly at several points that I almost broke them. Solidarity, am I right?! He is the BEST support to me in labor, quietly encouraging me or just being present and silent. He was reminding me not to give up, physically supporting my weight during tough contractions, continuously replacing my cold washcloths and fanning me, and praying near to my ear exactly what I need to hear in the moment. And he also laughs at my inappropriate jokes along the way. I love him so much. Having a doula to communicate with the nurses, help advocate for my birth plan, take pictures, and physically support me with counterpressure, hip squeezes, and suggested position changes, allowed my husband to be even more intimately connected to me emotionally and spiritually.



2:05 p.m. Another really strong contraction with intense pushing and loud warrior screams and then comes a huge POP. My water breaks in the tub (way less messy than my previous birth on the hospital bed)!


Now was when it started to get really hard, the hardest half hour of my life. Carson wanted me to change birthing positions every few contractions to get the baby to descend now that my water had broken. I turned around into a sitting position and leaned back, which felt horrible because I didn’t have as much control. I felt like I was just flailing around in the water during contractions and pushing aimlessly. I flipped back around and put one knee up to my chest for a contraction, then alternated knees up to chest for several more. Then I tried a few while squatting. And then the craziest part, they had me turn on my side and put one leg completely over the side of the birthing tub during a contraction while Julia pushed against my back for support. Then we flipped to the other side and did the same thing with my other leg over the outside of the tub. Carson could finally see the head about to crown and I was able to reach down and touch the baby’s head, which gave me so much extra energy to finish this marathon strong. I was so so close! And I was thankfully so so present.



All I wanted to do was push the baby out as quickly as possible because it hurt. My warrior moans were pretty loud at this point and I was exhaling as deeply and powerfully as possible - loud and low grunts, focusing my energy on opening and releasing. Carson and Julia helped me maintain my composure and slow down my pushes to minimize tearing which was the last thing I wanted to do. I was facing forward with my back leaning against the birth pool with Sean‘s calming presence behind me and his hands gripping my hands. I was holding my breath and bearing down with as much strength as I could muster for as long as I could stand. Although I know this only lasted around 5 to 10 minutes, it felt like an absolute eternity, like it would never end and I would surely die in this position. But instead I was literally about to bring forth life!

The head pops out! Thank You, Jesus. A surge of adrenaline rushes throughout my entire body. Our baby is almost here. I reach down to touch the head just to believe it is real. Carson then has me turn over back to hands and knees for the final pushes, carefully keeping baby’s head submerged to not prompt breathing yet. Once baby's face hits air, they cannot go back under. I give my last bit of strength while holding Sean‘s hands, and with the final roar from the deepest recesses of my lungs, the shoulders and then the rest of the body slip out.



What an indescribable feeling! I did it… we did it!!! Carson catches the baby and lifts them from the water to show Sean as he excitedly exclaims, “It’s a GIRL! Honey, we have another baby GIRL!” It was the most glorious surprise. Although I kept declaring it would be a girl, almost everyone thought it was going to be a boy. My Zelie. Tears of joy mingled with relief and elation and mama power fall down my cheeks as I gingerly turn around and Carson places our precious baby girl, Zelie Grace, on my chest. I’m in awe as I marvel at God’s adorable creation from inside of me who has triumphantly made her way to the outside.



“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” John 16:21


Because of suspected meconium and/or fluid in the lungs the nurses chose to take her immediately for deep suctioning in the room. Unfortunately, they cut the umbilical cord more quickly instead of our plan of optimal cord clamping. Sean accompanied her while Carson, Julia, and a nurse helped me carefully stand and exit the birth pool and get wrapped in warm towels as I slowly made my way over to the hospital bed to birth the placenta. It took about 15 minutes total and hurt more than I remembered from my first birth. It took several strong contractions and bearing down while the nurse annoyingly pushed on my stomach. My baby wasn’t on my chest to happily distract me but it was all done quickly. I marveled at the beauty and magnificence of my placenta, this organ which had developed and completely sustained my baby throughout 10 months, now out of my body as it was no longer needed. Really, it’s just the most amazing thing to contemplate!


Carson finished checking me out and gave me the greatest news that there was no tearing. No stitches or any interventions needed and there was no excessive bleeding. Sean comes running back over to me in the bed and says excitedly, “Take a guess on how much our baby girl weighs!” I honestly don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was somewhere around 7 1/2 pounds, similar to Teressa. He laughs out loud, “8 pounds and 11 ounces!”


My Zelie was brought back to me and everything was totally healthy and fine. She was placed on my chest to start nursing and skin-to-skin contact for the next hour, while Sean fed me a delicious plate of fresh fruit, chicken and veggies. We also took a bunch of pictures with our amazing birth team before they headed out to allow us our peaceful golden hour with our new bundle of JOY. One nurse made me an orange juice/cranberry cocktail with ginger ale. I also got to sip some long awaited cold coffee, and I couldn’t have been happier in those moments with our new gift of LIFE.


Postpartum:

We took ALL of the things to our postpartum room where we stayed for exactly 24 hours before getting the green light to go home. As suspected, there was the usual hospital noises and distractions and interruptions every 20 minutes or so, and mediocre food. But we did order a delicious, celebratory meal from a local restaurant of falafel, lamb skewers, cauliflower rice, hummus, pita, and veggies…super healthy protein to refuel! We FaceTimed our families and sent excited messages to all of our closest friends, reveling in the joy of those first few hours.



Zelie nursed often and I was so content to just hold her and stare at her perfectly plump and red face. We took turns resting and Sean took care of all of her diaper changes and swaddled her for little naps. We kept our battery candles on with peaceful music and essential oils to make the room feel calm amidst the chaos buzzing outside the door. The nurses were excellent and respectful, and overall it was a great hospital experience. Compared to my previous birth experience, though, I was ready to get out of there and be home in my own bed as quickly as possible. We did get a long lovely visit from a lactation consultant the next morning.


Carson came to visit the next day. We processed together a bit of the birth, laughed a lot, and she gave the hospital the green light for our discharge later. We were sooo ready to introduce Zelie Grace to her big sister, Teressa Joy!



I felt super great and after Sean had loaded up the car, I walked straight out in the sunshine feeling like a brand new person! Zelie was passed out the whole way home and we arrived right around dinner time. There was a huge homemade chalk “Welcome Zelie” sign on the driveway and my mom had made a yummy Italian dinner. I walked in first and Teressa was so excited. Sean brought in Zelie in the car seat and placed her down in the living room. It was by far one of the sweetest moments of my whole life to see Teressa run and look excitedly into the car seat and give a kiss to baby Zelie. She gently rocked the car seat and was just the cutest with her. My mama heart could explode with JOY. Thank you Father God for these greatest gifts and wonderful moments to see your tangible LOVE truly come to life. I am so grateful.



“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17


Carissa Williams lives in Roswell, Georgia with her husband Sean and two little girls, Teressa Joy and Zelie Grace. They are expecting their 3rd child in June and excitedly planning for a home birth. She is a newly certified birth doula and overjoyed to help other mothers and families welcome the sacred gift of new life. She also teaches hoop dance fitness, Hoola pregnancy, and postpartum stretch/workout classes in her home studio. Find her at www.HoolaDoula.com or on Instagram @hooladoula.


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