Family life

Wilson’s Birth Story

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We had a baby!

After all that anticipation and waiting (40 weeks, 4 days – or, if we go by how it felt, approximately 12 years of pregnancy…), it happened.

Our sweet, squishy, snuggly baby boy has finally arrived earth-side! He’s here!

I am a birth story junkie. I just love them. I wrote up our son Lincoln’s on a former blog back in 2012. (You can read it here.) I read countless birth stories as we prepared for this baby’s birth. There’s something so beautiful about the entry of new life into the world. Something so hopeful. Something so out of control and so peaceful all at once.

So for those of you who are birth story junkies too, or for anyone who wants an inside look on how our sweet little boy made his entry into the world, here it is. Daryl’s comments are in the block quotes, since I don’t always remember events clearly once I hit labor-land.

[Warning: this is a post about birth so it talks about birth-y things. If you’re squeamish about words like cervix or placenta, this post is not for you. It will also have a handful of photos of our labor and birth. Nothing graphic, but feel free to stop reading here if that weirds you out. No hard feelings.]

The Pre-Game Show:

Saturday, March 19, I started feeling kind of labor-y. Lots of Braxton-Hicks contractions and just feeling generally blah. Usually Daryl takes all day Saturday to work on his dissertation, but the night before I asked if he’d be willing to take Lincoln to the park for a few hours to wear him out before leaving for work.

The next morning I think he could sense that I needed a little time to myself, so he took Lincoln for the entire morning. They ran errands, they ate pancakes, they went to the park. I took a long shower and enjoyed finishing up a few house things.

I had no appetite all day, but managed to eat a little lunch. Linc came home for his nap, and after he woke up we snuggled and watched Arthur and played. He was extra sweet and I savored the moments of hugs and kisses and Thomas at the train table, expecting that everything would be different so soon.

My parents came around dinnertime to pick Lincoln up for a sleepover. They visit us every March (the month at which Wisconsin winters become utterly intolerable) and rent a house fifteen minutes away, and Linc loves his nights over there. Daryl and I rented the movie Bridge of Spies (quite good!) and curled up on the couch to watch. I texted Tonya, our doula, to tell her that I was having some light contractions 5-minutes apart, but nothing painful or serious and it might still be Braxton-Hicks. She offered to come over, but I knew it wasn’t full-on labor yet, so I told her I’d let her know.

Daryl proceeded to sleep through the entire movie (this is his usual…) and when it ended we both went to bed. After an hour of tossing and turning, I got up to do the mommy-rock in the kitchen (you moms know the one – the figure-8 hip circles that you naturally do to put a baby to sleep?). The contractions strengthened a bit and went on until 4:30am, at which point I finally collapsed to sleep.

This then happened every night for the next week and a half.

Every.

Night.

Oh, and a lot of the days, too. Middling contractions on and off. 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes apart. It made it hard to focus, to concentrate. It made it hard to leave the house, and definitely not safe to drive.

Daryl: I remember having a conversation with Courtney about how the baby needed her. How it was a struggle but it wasn’t for nothing. That the baby needed each day, each contraction. I felt like something pivotal happened in that conversation, even though the next few days were still really hard. But Court dug really deep and did a lot of work to find her way through and hold on for those days. To prepare and embrace them for whatever they were going to be.

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{Look how happy I seem! I am NOT happy.}

Thursday, March 24 I had a birth center appointment. The midwife checked and found that I was 4cm dilated and 70% effaced. Great news! With Lincoln – our first – I had been 0cm until I went into hard labor. She swept my membranes and said I’d likely be in active labor within 48 hours.

No dice.

48 hours later I was still just as pregnant and having the same middling contractions without them ever ramping up in intensity. It was unbelievably frustrating.

Then, on Tuesday, March 29 I thought it was finally game time. I had stronger contractions all morning, and by 3pm there were waves of definite strength at 2 1/2 – 3 minutes apart. I called our doula and the birth center, and Daryl came home from work. We made it to the birth center by 4:30. Another midwife checked me and monitored the baby through a couple of contractions.

“Courtney,” she said kindly, “you’re at 5cm and 80% effaced. It’s likely you’ll go into hard labor tonight, but you’re not there yet. Get some dinner, go for a walk, and page me as soon as this turns into active labor.”

Okay, I thought. Fine. A few more hours. I can do this.

Daryl and I walked around the Irvine Spectrum, ate burgers, and bought a ruffly purple baby hat for the baby, who I was certain would be a girl.

A random stranger lectured me on the danger of going past my due date and told me I should go eat – you guessed it – spicy food to induce labor. (WHY do random strangers think they can lecture pregnant women?! RAGE.)

My inner monologue with this lady: I mean, come ON, mall lady. We’ve been working on this for WEEKS. You can’t just drop in and solve it for us. WHAT GIVES YOU THE RIGHT?

Looking back on that day, though, we were able to have an extended date that was, in the midst of struggling through a lot of pain and frustration, marked by real moments of laughter and memory and fun and bonding. I was grateful for it. Mall lady notwithstanding.

The contractions continued but didn’t grow stronger. We drove home and the midwife texted us to see how things were going.

“The same,” I said.

She encouraged me to sleep and to page her when labor ramped up. Of course, it didn’t.

I woke up the next morning totally over the whole pregnancy thing. The past ten days had been the longest, most physically uncomfortable, most frustrating of my life. I was expecting quick, hard labor like I had with Lincoln, and instead I had impossibly slow, long early labor. This baby was taking forever. It wasn’t so much that I was overdue, though that was not my favorite thing. It’s that the early labor had stopped me from enjoying normal life for over a week. The pain didn’t seem productive, just endless.

That day Lincoln went to the beach with my parents, and Daryl and I went out for a drive. A few minutes down the road I proceeded to totally melt down.

“I can’t do this anymore!” I wailed. “I’ve been in early labor since the day before Palm Sunday and I am miserable and I feel like I’m under house arrest and I don’t understand why God and this baby are so determined to torture me like this!”

Melodramatic much? Yeppers.

We parked the car. Daryl listened, rubbed my back, and suggested we pray. I prayed for relief, for mercy, for my body to either ramp up or relax so I could rest for a few days. I cried out to God with lots and lots of tears. Daryl asked that God would look on me, his daughter, with mercy and compassion. He asked that God would bring our baby to us that very same day.

I knew Courtney needed relief soon, that she’d really reached the end. There was nothing I could do but pray. My heart really went out to her.

She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met, and she was at a really low place. We needed God to meet us there.

We walked around another mall and bought a board game to help pass the time. Then we drove home, ready to meet Lincoln for snuggles after his day with Grandma and Grandpa.

It was 7pm and we were two blocks from our house when a very serious contraction hit.

“Daryl,” I said, almost afraid to even suggest it. “I think this is it.”

The Active Labor Game

We texted my parents – who were then on their way up with Lincoln – and asked them to keep him overnight. My Dad is a wizard (Linc HATES when plans change), and turned their drive into a trip to Albertson’s for chocolate Cheerios. (Linc does not at ALL mind when plans change if it means he gets sugar.)

Daryl and I parked and waited to see if we should call the birth center. This was surely it. That contraction wasn’t messing around.

And then… no more contractions. Nada. I fought back tears.

We went home and cleaned the house, just in case. We watched Survivor and had a snack.

A couple of hours later, the contractions started again. Regular. Painful. We called the birth center and our doula, Tonya, who came over to check on me. She had just left a women’s Bible study when I texted her, and she said the women there all prayed for me, that my labor would start that same night after the rough ten days I’d been through.

Between contractions I put a Lego set together for Lincoln – a present to him from the new baby. It helped give my mind something to focus on besides all the “what if’s” – What if this wasn’t labor? What if I couldn’t handle the pain once labor really started? What if I would be pregnant forever?

Daryl laid down for a nap and Tonya timed my contractions for about an hour. They grew stronger and closer together, and by the end of the hour I couldn’t talk through them anymore.

I remember looking at Court in the early stages of active labor and thinking, “I know we can do this. Courtney doesn’t need me right now, but she really will later. The best thing I can do is get some rest.” I was a little insecure that Tonya would think I was an absentee husband/father by going to take a nap (I mean she doesn’t know me, maybe she really does think I’m more interested in ESPN then I am about my WIFE BEING IN LABOR), but I knew how much Court would need me later and wanted to be ready. I was loving her by storing energy.

I also remember that we had West Wing episodes playing in the background during those hours of early labor at home. Courtney went into labor with Lincoln while watching season 7 in bed. This time I think it was season 3. Either West Wing = Labor or we’re just hopeless West Wingers.

Tonya checked in with Rachael – the midwife on call at our birth center. Rachael could hear me vocalizing in the background and agreed that it was time to hit the road. I woke Daryl and we headed to the car.

The drive to the birth center was not my favorite thing. Sitting down while in active labor is super uncomfortable, but I didn’t want to be unbuckled on the 405 freeway, so I managed. Midway through the drive my water broke and I started apologizing profusely to Daryl.

“You’re sitting on a towel,” he said. “And we drive a 2003 Corolla. This is all fine.”

Courtney went into the birth center ahead of me. I got all the stuff from the car. Just as I walked into the birth center lobby, I saw Rachael come over to her and hug her. I was so grateful for the sense of expertise everyone had, but their love and professional hospitality as well. They were going to help us get this baby into the world. I remember thinking, “My wife and my family are in really good hands.”

We knew these people – they had walked with us up until that point and they were going to walk through this night with us, too. I was grateful for that. It put me really at ease.

Labor started in earnest by the time we got to South Coast. The lobby lights were dimmed and the whole place felt quiet and hushed and holy. Once we made it into the birthing suite, Rachael checked my cervix – I was at 6cm and completely effaced. They filled up the birth tub, I put on a bathing suit top, and I got right in.

I remember watching Courtney labor into the tub without me and I constantly had to resist the temptation to say more or do more. I don’t think I consciously thought at the time, “She needs me to be quiet and a rock,” but somehow I knew that my silent presence was what she needed, and that she would invite me in when she needed me.

Warm water is an incredible pain reliever in labor. As soon as I sank into that tub I felt joy and relief – this was it! Labor had started! Unlike with Lincoln, I didn’t doubt that I could do it. I knew natural birth was possible for me, and that my body was strong. But now that I’d already had one baby, I knew that the next minutes and hours were going to be tough. Really tough. I tried to find my pain-handling mental place – the place I go to when I run distance races or carry a 30-pound toddler back from the park.

Daryl put on the same birth music playlist that I used with Lincoln. It’s a mixture of mellow bluegrass – Jake Armerding, Nickel Creek – and Christmas music. I know, it was March, but Christmas music is all about the birth of a special baby. It helps center me in the knowledge that the anticipation is about to be fulfilled. Also, it brings Jesus into the room, which is always a good reminder in times of physical pain.

I labored in the tub for about half an hour. Tonya gave me sips of juice (unlike a hospital, the birth center encourages women to eat and drink throughout labor to keep up their strength) and rubbed my lower back with a tennis ball. When the pain got stronger, I asked Daryl to put on his swim trunks and get into the tub so I could hold onto him for leverage and comfort. He was a rock.

When Courtney invited me into the tub I felt honored to be asked to be such an active participant in her labor.

Being in the tub with her was deeply reassuring. We had been in this place with Lincoln – a very healthy, vigorous baby – last time. I knew we could get through this again. Being that close to her, watching her work so hard, there was never a doubt in my mind that she was making strong progress.

I could hear the tone of her voice change. I could hear the transition from moaning to yelling happen. I knew that it might help for her to hear more updates from Rachael, but there was a quiet wisdom to how Rachel was approaching it, and it felt like me asking for more feedback on Courtney’s behalf would be out of order in some way. I felt like trusting Rachael in that.

I heard Rachael say, “The cervix is gone,” but I didn’t know what that meant, whether transition was over or not.

I remember the birth team talking and saying that the baby was close, and I was just hoping that they were not trying to inspire but were in fact telling the truth. The timeline that their speech communicated ended up matching how things were going, but I wasn’t sure at the time.

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We had labored together in a tub for Lincoln’s birth, but since Daryl wasn’t sure what to expect during that first birth experience, he had been much more nervous. This time he had heard me make all the labor sounds before. He knew what the midwife and her assistants were doing. He was so calm and serene. As each contraction came and went, he and Tonya told me it was gone forever, that I was one contraction closer to meeting our baby. I’ll always remember holding on to the side of his neck and relaxing between contractions – I felt so safe and supported and loved in his arms.

I had asked our birth team to be as non-interventionist as possible and just let me do my thing. They were amazing. Rachael kept constant track of my progress but almost never spoke. Ashley – the birth assistant – regularly checked the baby’s heartbeat, but if a contraction overwhelmed me she would wait for the next one.

The only time I was truly afraid was when Ashley checked the baby’s heartbeat and it was very, very slow. I looked up, alarmed. She giggled.

“That wasn’t the heartbeat, Courtney,” she said. “Your baby is doing so well and is so relaxed that it has the hiccups. During labor.”

Each time she checked the heartbeat she used the doppler lower on my belly. Progress was happening! The baby was moving down.

They asked if Courtney wanted a new position, and my gut reaction was, “Oh, no no no no no no.” It was the only time I spoke up a bit. “Spoke up” might be too strong word. I’m pretty I just uttered a gutteral, almost involuntary, “no” into Courtney’s ear at the suggestion that she move into a new position. I remembered the Herculean strength she had in her arms during Lincoln’s labor – she stayed on her hands and knees in the tub for several hours. I was glad Courtney said no to a new position, and that no one did more than simply suggest one.

Near the end the contractions started to become overwhelming. I went from vocalizing to outright yelling. (Poor Daryl’s ears!) I needed to know the end was in sight.

“Am I through transition yet?” I asked, almost afraid to pose the question. What if I was just at 7cm and still had three more agonizing ones to go?

“You’re past transition,” said Rachael. Such relief flooded me.

“Can I push?”

“You already are. Want to try a new position?”

I flipped over onto my back – the same position I’d used to push with Lincoln, except this time I got to stay in the tub and lean on Daryl. I’d heard from lots of other women that the pushing was easier after their first baby and I’d been hopeful that this would be the case for me. I didn’t push for long with Lincoln – just 40 minutes or so – and it was intense but not terrifying. With this baby, it was terrifying.

I didn’t push for long – maybe 10 minutes – but near the end I started to panic. Rachael had me reach down to feel that his head was almost out, and I realized in that moment how much effort it was going to take to bring him into the world. How much pain. In a split second I went through my options – I could refuse to do it, but that would mean transferring to a hospital, which would mean riding in an ambulance, getting checked in, getting meds, and having a C-section… and all this would mean at least another hour of the excruciating pain. That or push the baby out and be done in another minute, even though I was terrified.

I pushed. I screamed for help and Jesus and someone to make it stop.

When Courtney got to that stage of being pretty freaked out, Rachael responded really decisively saying, “Slow down. Breathe deeply. Push lower.” I thought of it as the same type of decisiveness as when Dr. Kate [our midwife for Lincoln’s birth] came in the room and told Courtney want she needed to do. Having someone with such wisdom and experience direct her at such a critical time, showing such expertise in knowing when to speak and when not to speak, was incredible. Watching her get right to the edge of losing control even though there wasn’t much I could do to help and then watching someone else help my wife and child so decisively is something I’ll never forget. Thank God for other people’s wisdom and expertise that helps love people we love in ways we can’t.

I’ll never forget Rachael mouthing to Ashley, “Head’s out!” and then saying, “There’s a cord around the neck . . . but it’s loose.” There was real fear for me for the baby’s health in her pause, but she was working to free the cord, which was far more important than updating me in that split second.

I pushed so hard Rachael had to hold me back so I wouldn’t tear. She helped things stretch enough that I only tore a very small amount, and then the baby’s head was out. The cord was around his neck, but just loosely, so she slipped it over his head and I worked to push out his shoulders and chest. Lincoln’s head was so big the rest of him came out easily, but this baby had a slightly smaller head (thank goodness!) and a broad chest, so the second part of him took some work to get out as well. With the chest finally out, Rachael said gently, “Catch your baby!”

Daryl and I reached down together and brought him up to my chest. He was purplish for half a second, then he cried one small cry of protest and pinked right up.

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This moment. All worth it.

Flooded with relief and tears and joy and gratitude, we snuggled our new baby. That moment – catching him with Daryl – was everything.

I was so thankful for those moments right after the baby’s birth. They were so emblematic of family life – everyone is working so hard to grow up and get there – and it’s all for these moments of God’s blessing. Something new, something coming to fruition because the ground has been plowed and nurtured. Hard work and teamwork. It was just beautiful.

It wasn’t a medical moment. It was a family moment. It was a milestone in our family facilitated by incredible medical professionals, and they allowed it to be what it was – this unbelievable family moment.

It took us a few moments before we checked to see what he was. I had been so certain throughout my pregnancy that he was a girl, but I was wrong! I was shocked. Not at all disappointed, but utterly, utterly shocked. Another son! A little brother for Lincoln! A BOY!

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I couldn’t stop kissing his soft little head. He was almost as bald as daddy, and so snuggly and warm. His fingers and toes were wrinkly from the extra days in the womb, and his sweet little bony heels reminded me of the discomfort just below my rib cage as he’d kicked and kicked at the same spot in my belly for weeks.

It was 1:43am. I’d been in hard labor for just three hours. Early labor for ten days, and then hard labor for less time than it takes us to drive to San Diego in traffic. Crazy.

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I delivered the placenta and the birth team got us dried off and moved us to the bed to get acquainted. One of the best parts of having a baby at South Coast is the “Golden Hour” they give you after birth. They dried us off, brought us the meal we’d packed on a fancy plate, and then let us snuggle alone as a family for a whole hour. (The birth assistant came in every 10-15 minutes to massage my uterus and check for bleeding, but she was in and out without disturbing anyone much).

Daryl and I marveled at his little face – already so expressive! – and the fact that we had a second son. We talked about how to introduce him to Lincoln, and thanked God for the safe labor and birth. So many of my fears (getting stuck in traffic, delivering a baby on the freeway, labor being too fast) never came to fruition. God was so good to us.

We also talked about the baby’s name. We’d settled on a girls’ name early on but had gone back and forth about what to name a boy. We loved the middle name Usher – Daryl’s mom’s maiden name – but the first name was harder. We tested out a few and none felt quite right.

The birth team came back in to give me a few stitches and do the baby’s newborn exam. Turns out he’s O-negative blood, just like me and his Grandpa Paul, so I didn’t need any follow up Rhogam shots. Baby was super healthy and strong.

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I loved weighing him! I love that they put him in this baby hammock and handed him to me. It was a sweet way to include me, the husband, and I’ll never forget how much he liked being in that little bundle. He was really comfortable in there. Maybe we need to get a baby hammock…

Watching Rachael give him a checkup, count all his parts, listen to his heart and lungs right there at the foot of the bed gave me such a relief of the worries every parent has – that something’s going to be wrong or some part’s going to be missing. But it was confirmation of a really strong and healthy little boy.

We all guessed he’d be close to nine pounds, but when Daryl weighed him he was 8 even. 20 inches long, with a head half an inch smaller than Linc’s (for which I will forever be grateful!).

The birth team helped me shower and get into clean pajamas. We broke out a box of See’s chocolates that we’d brought to celebrate. Daryl and I ate several but the birth team didn’t eat many at all. We were high on adrenaline, but they were all feeling like it was 3am (because, you know, it was 3am!) and chocolate wasn’t high on their list of early morning snack foods.

Daryl dressed the baby and got him ready to go home. As we packed up, I saw a handmade blanket we’d packed to bring the baby home in and a name we’d discussed early on in pregnancy came back to me.

“What about Wilson?” I asked Daryl. Wilson is my grandma Julie’s maiden name. It also keeps with the presidential theme we have going. We did a little research on Woodrow Wilson and found out he was a good Presbyterian, a faithful husband, and a firm believer in working for peace. We pondered for a few minutes.

The birth team gave us our final instructions and served us sparkling apple juice for a celebratory toast. From start to finish, we were so thrilled with our care at South Coast. They did an incredible job and helped us have a phenomenal birth experience.

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{Ashley (birth assistant), Rachael (midwife), Tonya (doula), proud momma, sleepy baby, Ruby (second birth assistant)}

We got lots of hugs and hopped in the car by 4am. After birth, babies have a 4-6 hour period of serious sleepiness, so they told us to take advantage of it, as it might be the longest stretch we’d have to sleep for many weeks to come.

On the drive home we settled on our baby’s name: Wilson Usher Ellis.

In our conversations, both in the bed and in the car, I felt like we were wading through God’s providence. Naming someone is really serious! We were going back and forth and didn’t have it settled, and it wasn’t until we spoke clearly on the way home that this one’s name came to us.

I was thankful that both of us spoke openly about the feelings we had – pros and cons – and I felt like we bonded together and celebrated and rejoiced together in his name.

I’ll never forget coming home to our bed at 4:30am and taking a nap. It felt like an absolute miracle to be back in our own bed–no West Wing this time, but +1 in the person count–only 5 1/2 hours later. Incredible. Such joy in the intensity of those hours and God’s mercy upon them, and then getting to rest together in our home.

We turned out the light and I felt like, “Well, that was quite a night. And we did it together.”

Suddenly the wait for his arrival didn’t seem that long.

What a beautiful boy. What a gift. What a joy.

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11 thoughts on “Wilson’s Birth Story

  1. Such a beautiful lovely holy story. My heart is humbled and full of thanksgiving

    Sent from my iPhone

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  2. What a sweet story of new life as I begin a new day. I can relate to those last days of “knowing” today was the day! 🙂 Our first two were both 2 weeks early. Our third was 2 weeks late so for a whole month, every day was THE day. Excruciating! We laugh about it now – even 17 years later. Love has a way of masking the pain and leaving us with great stories.

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  3. Courtney & Daryl, I love the he said/she said account of Wilson Usher’s birth. My, how delivering babies have changed & now include the dad in such a bonding family way. Congratulations on a job well done & the creative way of telling your birth story.

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  4. I love the he said/she said account of Wilson Usher’s birth. What a bonding experience for the dad to be such an important part of the process. Congratulations on giving Lincoln Paul such a cute little brother! (& what a happy little cutie pie he is holding him)!

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  5. Dear Courtney and Daryl,

    What a tender and beautifully written Wilson’s Life Story is. The pictures are just wonderful…thank you so much for sharing such an intimate and private precious event with us! I hope that you are getting some rest. I think that Wilson is such a lucky boy to have such a wonderful, loving family!!!

    Blessings and love to all of you,
    Joan Way

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  6. I love this story, how it captures the agonizing wait and excruciating pain and, best of all, the spiritual love that encapsulates it all. I really like what Daryl said about thanking God for the wisdom and experience of others to be the love to those you love when you yourself can’t do it. And, our birth stories have so much in common: 8 lbs, 20 in, I thought for sure we were having a boy and even half-waited to see his little missing part grow immediately after the birth when my mind was still absent. Haha! Most of all, we both invited Jesus into our stories. Feel free to read about it on my blog. Congratulations and God bless to you and your family.

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  7. I had such a similar story with southcoast. I had my baby at the house but everything other than that was similar. Ashley was my birth assistant too 🙂 I loved having her there. She brought a calm to me that I needed. I was told to slow down when I was at my last couple pushes too. I loved how everyone just stayed out of the way. I didn’t have one update haha, had no clue when I transitioned. I pushed whenever I wanted to (I still don’t know where I was at when I started to push. I don’t think anyone that was there does). It was so nice being free to just birth a child without bother. So glad you got an amazing birth. There’s nothing like a water birth. So amazing.

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  8. Courtney and Daryl,

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful and touching story! You are all truly blessed and I can’t wait to meet Wilson someday soon! God’s love to you all!

    Carla Odwald

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  9. Such a beautiful birth story. The photos made we well up! I’ve recently posted my birth story – pop over and take a read if you’re not sick of birth stories by now… lol

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