This is the story of how one couple so beautifully rose above challenging circumstances surrounding the health of mother baby when she was diagnosed with Cholestasis of pregnancy at 38 weeks pregnant. Grieving the home birth they had dreamed of for months, they truly switched gears and made the best of their new plan…
The Birth of Nelson Caleb
By Whitney Nall
I am a detail person by nature so I will start by sharing some of the background details to set the scene for the birth of our firstborn. My husband and I got married in September 2008 and lived in Nashville, TN. It was at that time that we were introduced to Dr. Josh Axe at Exodus Health Center and I started going there for chiropractic care. In addition to hearing about switching from peanut butter to almond butter and getting rid of our microwave, we also heard about stopping to take birth control pills and having home births. This was eye opening for us as a couple but no better time to start a new foundation than as newlyweds. We have been told over and over that we both have teachable spirits so it was to no surprise that we started incorporating these new choices into our life. I even switched from going to an OBGYN for my “well woman visits” to midwives. It was a conversation with the midwife, Lauren Drees, that I remember her looking at me and in the most sincere way saying, “When that time comes, you will have a peace about giving birth because God made your body and He made your baby’s body and you were made for this!” Those life-giving words stuck with me. Over those first few years of marriage, we learned more about the natural birth process and knew in our hearts when the time came for us to have children, this was our heart’s desire.
In May 2011, we moved to Birmingham, AL for Brandon’s job. We found out that December that I was pregnant. We knew from the get-go that we wanted to have a home birth. It did not take long for us to find out that midwives are banned in Alabama and it is not an option for us to have a home birth in Alabama because if there were to be a medical need to transfer to a hospital, there would be no hospital that allowed this. So after praying through our options, we were connected with an amazing midwife, Karen Brock, who I drove an hour (each way) for each prenatal visit. She was located near that Alabama/Tennessee border and she was worth the drive for me to go see each month…then the further along I got, every other week, then weekly. She was a true Godsend and walked us through each step of the journey. We also decided at that time that we would have the home birth in Chattanooga at my parent’s house, the childhood home I grew up in. So we connected with a midwife in Chattanooga and met with her throughout the pregnancy when in Chattanooga so that she could track with us and get to know us through the process as well. The game plan was going to be for me to “move” to Chattanooga at week 38 and nestle down at Mom and Dad’s and wait for the baby to come and Brandon would just commute back and forth from Birmingham to Chattanooga.
The pregnancy journey was a blessing. Uneventful prenatal visits. Heard the heartbeat. Measured right on. No issues (which now I know is more of a blessing than I could have ever imagined) … At week 20 we found out that we were having a boy … Nelson Caleb. I loved feeling the kicks and enjoyed the whole process. Around week 37, Nelson flipped and was no longer head down. I was working at a chiropractic office in Birmingham at the time and when the chiropractor was out of town, it was someone filling in for her whose expertise was the “Webster’s Technique” that helped turn Nelson from the breech position back to head down. Totally God’s timing for him to flip back to head down before I was to move to Chattanooga.
At week 38, I got settled in at my “birthing spot” in Chattanooga and I remember that first night enjoying a celebratory dinner with family friends and being so thankful to finally be there. The first night I was there (Brandon was in Alabama) I woke up in the night itching. The itching was mainly on the palms of my hands and soles of my feet and it was uncomfortable enough that it woke me up and I started googling my symptoms. I remember reading something that said to call the midwife (or doctor) immediately and that the longer this goes on especially past 37 weeks in the pregnancy, the higher the risk of stillbirth. As a mama, that is nothing to mess around with. So much I could say here but will try to keep it to the cliffnote version of the story. Went in that next morning and had my Blood Liver Enzymes tested. Your AST and ALT are normally in the teens and mine were over 200. They encouraged me to test these a few days later in order to keep an eye on them and sure enough they had risen to over 400. They were keeping an eye on me my having me come in every couple of days (the itching was intensifying as the days went on … no rash or anything … just insane itching that wreaked havoc in the evening around 11pm and was out the roof awful until around 7am). My due date was Monday, August 6th. For these two weeks during the itching, they were allowing me to go ahead and do different homeopathic remedies for naturally inducing labor and I was walking all over Lookout Mountain saying out loud “open cervix” and visualizing my cervix opening. I will never forget the family and I were dressed in our bathing suits and getting ready to walk out of the door and go to stay cool in a neighbor’s pool on Sunday, August 5th around 1pmwhen the phone rang and it was midwife. She said they had just gotten the latest lab results in and she spoke with the collaborating doctor and they would like me to come in immediately – they will plan on meeting us at the hospital at 3pm that Sunday afternoon. Whew, that was the curve ball of the century. For the past 9 months we had prayed, prepared, and planned to have a home birth and now in less than a 2 hour time period, we were switching gears from giving birth in my childhood room to going to the hospital. I remember calling our doula friend, Frieda, who was praying with us over the phone and walking us through some things to expect and then our dear friend who was serving as our doula in this birth was already in Chattanooga for the weekend (visiting from Nashville) and was with us in the car driving to the hospital. I was being prepared for being “on guard” and knowing “my rights” and when anyone in the hospital tells us what to do, we have the right to say, “we would like to talk this over first” and things like that. We began praying for the Lord to give us nurses that were understanding and patient.
When we got there, our midwife met us there and we met with the collaborating doctor (whom we had already met at a previous visit earlier in the pregnancy) and they were both explaining that we are not going to be required to have caesarean and that I still get to have a vaginal birth. That day when I was checked I was 0% effaced, 0 centimeters and my cervix was “thick, hard and closed” (as any mama knows, it needs to be “thinned, soft, and open”)…I even remember them saying, “Let me go get Kelly, the nurse with the long fingers, to try and help us find your cervix”…that’s not what I wanted to hear. So, the only reason I can remember this next part is because I have the notes still in the notes section of my phone:
Started cytotec at 8:55pm on August 5th (leave it in for 7 hours), 25 macro grams
Started cervadil at 5:30am on August 6th (leave it in for 12 hours), 10 milligrams
Started cervadil at 3:00am on August 7th – 10 milligrams – Cervix is up to my left – not hard to find (I was SO encouraged to hear this!)
Got checked at 3pm and found I was 2 cm, soft, thinned, and centered (Hallelujah!)
Started pitocin at 3:50pm on August 7th (we went from a dose of 4, 8, 10 and normal dose is 40) … so very small doses
At 7pm, met Kristy (amazing nurse whose background was in homebirth deliveries)
At 8:50pm, the mucus plug came out, bloody show, then water broke
At 9:30pm, Kristy came in and checked me…I was 7 cm…crawled up on bed on all fours and got in a rhythm of breathing and moving…major focus (“HeHeHoo”, breathing the ocean in…breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth)
At 10:54pm, Nelson was born!
As you can imagine, this was an intense 48 hours. We started the first round of anything that Sunday night at 8:55pm and the waves (contractions) came on very strong and were back to back. I had my birth ball (exercise ball), rice sock (having that warm heat on my abdomen and lower back was a game changer for me), tennis ball that could be applied for pressure, plus Brandon (husband) and Mary (doula) there with me every step of the way. After the 5:30am round of cervadil on Monday morning, my contractions were coming so close together that by hospital rules, they were not allowed to give me anything else until my contractions started spacing out. That was a wild day. Being in the hospital (hearing other ladies literally screaming down the hall as they were having babies) and just waiting for my contractions to space back out so that we could even do the next right thing. There was a lot of praying, a lot of singing, reading Scriptures, and our pastor even came to visit us that day and I remember we all had a good cry as he put it, we were “grieving the loss of a dream”…I remember him even saying that each time I experienced the off the chart itching in the palm of my hands, remember what Jesus endured at the cross in His hands. I was so encouraged by my Jesus Calling devotional by Sarah Young and kept preaching the truth to myself, not listening to myself. I couldn’t let myself think about “if I were at home” or “how different this would be if we were having a home birth” because at this point, we were not. Our entire pregnancy we had said that we are going to move forward in this direction and if there is any reason not to, we asked the Lord to show us a red flag and this was our red flag. The health of this mama and this precious baby was our big fat red flag that were unable to miss. So now we were full on focused at having the absolute best natural birth experience in the hospital. Obviously we had to get my cervix ripened by certain measures that we would not have chosen – but we also declined a lot that was offered to us during that time – interventions that included being checked more than needed, internal monitoring of the contractions, breaking my water before I was majorly dilated. One of the things that I had to do was be hooked up to monitors. Though this was not ideal, I didn’t make a big deal of it and I asked if there was a portable monitor. I got to have the only one the hospital had. I got to walk up and down the halls and move around. From the first nurse we had to the last, we shared our story and then asked if they would give the next nurse the heads up before they came in so that we didn’t have to exhaust ourselves and go into full detail all over again. I was also not on my phone. Even when I got to Chattanooga, I sent out an email and texts to some of my inner circle about what the status was so they could be standing with us in prayer, but I kept my phone off in order to not be distracted by anyone checking in on all the “how are you”, “any news?” and so forth so that I could keep my mind hyper focused.
I was honored when my dear doula friend asked me to share this story with you because this has become one of my favorite stories about grace. God’s grace. The intimate journey the Lord took me on in these life-changing days of physically becoming a mommy for the first time, have been lessons that have stuck with me every day since. Seeing the way He answered our prayers and took a potentially very hard to understand situation and turned it for His glory is only something He can do. We have had countless opportunities to share with couples our story and they go on and have beautiful births of their own and are now sharing their story with others and the ripple effect is bigger than we will ever know.
As you can read in the details I shared above, on that Tuesday, August 7th before I started the pitocin. I sat on the birthing ball and had a good cry with Brandon. That is the point I remember being physically exhausted (hadn’t slept for the previous two weeks in the night due to the itching), then being in the hospital and having the intense contractions and not dilating much at all, was feeling discouraged and I kept remembering how everyone had told me, “rest up before birth because you’re going to need every ounce of energy when it comes time for labor and delivery”…well that just wasn’t possible with my situation. I was doing the best I could to rest in between all the action but it wasn’t “rest” like I had once envisioned. Which reminds me, Brandon and Mary did a great job of manning the door and even greeting the nurse there before they came in to check me or take my blood pressure, etc and if I was resting, they would even ask if they could come back in a few and that was such a blessing. I remember some moments even walking around the room rubbing my belly and telling Nelson “It’s going to be OK, buddy. You are in good hands. You are going to be here so soon. It’s all going to be ok” and then singing “Jesus Loves Me” to him. You can even see from the picture that Brandon was recording some of the victories on the board and writing down some of our go-to Scriptures like Exodus 14:14 so that we could keep the truth over our minds.
So that afternoon, when the nurse (Carly) was saying good bye before her shift change, I remember her looking me in the eyes and saying, “I can’t wait to meet your baby boy when I’m back here in the morning!” WOW. I still have chills all over me when I think of that moment. That life-giving angel of a nurse had been praying with me and cheering me on from the first time I met her. That really kicked my mind into another gear. Then she proceeded to tell me that I am about to get the best nurse (Kristy) and she is going to be a team player and love that we love the “home birth atmosphere” and so on. So when Kristy came in the room, she smelled of essential oils (and this was 4 years ago before they were all the hype that they are now) and looked like someone you would find working at Whole Foods or something. You could tell she was the “natural type” and when she came in and just saw me in my bra on the birth ball she said, “OH, I love this! When a mama has her clothes off – you know she is getting serious!” HAHA! She told us some of her story and background and was the most life giving person saying she is going to be able to help me birth this baby without pain and get into a mental state where I am so focused I am not even going to be able to feel anything and on and on. Yes please, sign me up. It felt like I had just been given a new fresh start or something. This was around 7pm on Tuesday, August 7th…then she needed to go check in down the hall on another mama and then she said she’ll be back. It was while she was gone around 8:50pm after my mucus plug came out that my water broke on its own!! That was a real victory. I was on the birth ball when it happened and my body kicked it into gear. I had not been on anything since the pitocin that afternoon which was only for a short time on super low doses but it was obvious my body was doing its thing. When Kristy game in at 9:30pm and said she needed to check me and I was at 7 cm, I wanted to shout for joy. She and I were in such a zone with the focused breathing that I literally didn’t say a word for three hours (and for anyone that knows me, you know this is uncharacteristic of me and worth being noted)…
When I was nearing 10cm, I remember Kristy calling the doctor in and he literally showed up in his polo shirt and pulled up a rocking chair and took a seat…like he was watching the “Whitney and Kristy Show” or something. He could tell we had a good rhythm going and didn’t want to intervene or get in the way. I will NEVER forget when they helped me roll over to my back and the A team was in there (Kristy, Amy, Dr. Seeber) and everything was happening really quick and they rolled over the little table that they put the baby on when he comes out and I thought, “Oh wow, this is really happening” and Brandon and Mary were there and we were doing this! Someone rolled the mirror over so that I would be able to see the baby as he came out and they they offered me my glasses (I usually wear contacts but I guess I didn’t have those in or something and they said, “You are going to want your glasses….you’re not going to want to miss this”). Then when it was go time, they said, “On this next push, you are going to crouch down like you are going poop in the woods and push this baby out” then one of them said, “Wow, look at all of Nelson’s hair” because he was right there and starting to crown. Then I said, “When am I going to know when to push?” and they all said in unison, “Oh, YOU’ll KNOW!” and sure enough on that next contraction I said, “It’s time!” and they were all supporting me as I crouched down (the extension part of the table was dropped down) and I crouched down like they said and OUT CAME NELSON! Insert all the tears here. I can’t even write this without crying all over again. Praise GOD!!! Nelson Caleb Nall in all his glory….happy birthday!!! So on Tuesday, August 7th at 10:54pm, weighing in at 7lbs, 7oz Nelson Caleb Nall entered this world and made me a mommy and Brandon a daddy and our lives have not and will never be the same again. To God be all the glory!!
The curve ball journey did not stop there. We found out that next morning when the pediatrician came in to give us his report that, “All looks well. You all will be able to go home today like you so desire. The only thing, as you know, is Nelson has club feet…” Hmm, no, I had no clue. That was a moment when my mama’s heart sunk. I didn’t know really what all that meant but he reassured me that this is fixable and all will be well. Whew. That could be another blog post in and of itself but long story short is that was just the next journey God took us on.
We got to leave the hospital at 24 hours and go home to rest and recover at “home” (Mom & Dad’s house) and then a few days later went back to Birmingham to get nestled in to our “home” there. When Nelson was 5 days old, we took him to the doctor to be informed about the club feet. At 3 weeks, we started the casting process and then did that each week for 3 months. Then at 3 months old, they gave him a pair of shoes with a bar (that we call a “snowboard”) and he wore that 23 out of 24 hours everyday until he was 6 months old. That did not stop him from rolling over, sitting up, crawling, or anything. Then at age 6 months, he was only to wear the snowboard at night until age 4 years old. Yesterday, August 7, 2016, we celebrated Nelson’s 4 year old birthday and the completion of the snowboard wearing.
His feet are in fantastic condition and he has been a champion on this “one step at a time” process the Lord has us walking on each day with Him. If you have made it this far in the reading, I pray with all of my heart that this story encourages you where you are today. I have learned that no two stories, babies, parents are the same but at certain points in our journey there are bits and pieces we can learn from each other and we can certainly support each other along the way. I am an open book and would love to talk further with you or meet you for a juice or something if you ever wanted to talk in person. Life is too short to not be real and cheer each other on. May God bless you and your family each step of the way. Thank you for reading!
***If you’d like to contact Whitney, please send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to connect you!***