James’ birth story

Saturday, June 12th, Lukas and I had a lunch date. Mimi (his mom) came to babysit for the day so we could continue to work on what we wanted to get done before James made his arrival (expected due date, June 25th, 2 weeks away). That included Lukas putting the finishing touches on the sermon he’d deliver at church the next morning. We also decided we needed a little marriage investment that included a delicious lunch and a glass of wine. We hadn’t had the chance to talk about plans for Tabby when James came, and our visitor/family help schedule for after he arrived. so planned to discuss that at the date…two birds one stone!

The food was delicious, the wine good for the soul, and conversation was awesome — I left lunch feeling so connected, on the same page, and united with my husband.

By 3pm I started to feel “off” with strange symptoms — vomiting, diarrhea, cramping. The latter increased and kept increasing in intensity and regularity. It didn’t seem like labor, I was having Braxton Hicks contractions but those I’d been having for weeks so it didn’t phase us.

We were in contact with our doula who coached us along, agreeing with our assessment that I wasn’t in labor. This was freaking food poisoning. There’s a myth that it takes 24 hours for food poisoning symptoms to hit — not true. CDC says it can happen as quickly as 30 minutes after eating soiled food. For the record, we went to one of our favorite restaurants and I ate my favorite meal there. It wasn’t new, it wasn’t different, it was just a fluke. I won’t publicly say which establishment it was but I will say they have apologized for our experience and have been encouraging about the whole process, and again, food poisoning ended up being a BIG gift so maybe we should be sending them a thank you note!

Lukas made a phone call to the restaurant around 5pm to give them a heads up about what happened to me and this was a side of my husband I’d never seen before. He was NOT HAPPY I was in so much pain and sort of went all Incredible Hulk on the manager (the first of two times he behaved this way in Saturday — more on the second, later!) My normally cool calm and collected husband let his Italian side loose and I felt like a princess watching my husband slay a dragon in defensive of me!

By 7pm I was having serious cramping every 2 minutes and was in a lot of pain, like writhing around couldn’t move, pain. Lukas told me to check in with our doula while he put Tabby down to sleep. Putting her down took about 45 minutes and in that time I made 3 phone calls, received one, and set a whole bunch of stuff in motion, all while Lukas was thinking he was going to walk out of Tabby’s room having “survived the day”, ready to sit down with a Netflix show. It was really hard to make decisions like I did without him but once the first call was made, the dominoes fell.

Ring ring ring. Doula was first and she suspected dehydration, told me to call my midwife for a second opinion and see if I could come in to the hospital for fluids.

The midwife confirmed, yep, dehydration, let’s get you to L&D, hook you up to an IV and then send you home.

Mimi had been at our house from 9-4 all day and here I was, calling her at 7:30, prepping them they might have to come back. Only to call a few minutes later to follow up with, “get here as quick as you can” because the pain was increasing rapidly. She and Papa were on their way to East Point by the time Lukas walked out of Tabby’s room. Wide eyed, Lukas realized the relaxing night he had in front of him had taken a drastic turn.

We pulled a few last minute things together and Lukas had me in the car by the time his parents arrived. At this point the pain was almost unbearable and Lukas was worried, we both were, this was WEIRD.

The drive to the hospital was basically the most miserable thing I’d EVER experienced in my life. Maybe we’d both experienced. Life with chronic migraine hasn’t been a walk in the park and Lukas has seen me in a lot of pain before but this was different. This was very different. He reminds me at some points in the drive I was screaming, others I was banging the roof of the car. The pain, the cramping, was crippling.

Pulling into the hospital is when Incredible Hulk Lukas made his second appearance. He was a hardcore rockstar when he cut off an empty ambulance in the ER drop off zone, got me out of the car and yelled “HELP MY WIFE” as he was being yelled at to move our van.

Once they realized our dire situation, things moved extremely quickly. They got me in a wheelchair and wheeled me up to L&D.

Then things stalled a bit. Remember, I am experiencing cramping every two minutes. Most of which is requiring me to scream through the pain as I am curled in a fetal position. The triage nurse has to complete all these tests to find out if I was in labor, all the whole prolonging the entire reason we were there — an IV, please, please, please, get me an IV.

Lukas kept raising Cain in the hallway. We needed an IV, labor wasn’t why we were making this hospital run. It was food poisoning and the dehydration was, at this point, severe dehydration, and wreaking havoc in my body.

Welllllll, turns out the dehydration triggered labor and once the tests were conducted we knew I was 4cm dilated and 80% effaced. Basically, I was in the labor process. We called our doula, and she encouraged us to push harder for an IV, ASAP, so we could hopefully get me hydrated and stall labor. Even at 4cm, this isn’t rare. There was a good chance if we could stall things, James still had another 2 weeks to cook inside me. And I hoped desperately for the labor to subside because thinking about laboring while that exhausted and dehydrated was far from ideal.

At one point I communicated to my OB, the one who delivered Tabby, that with the way I was feeling we’d, hands down, be back in the OR getting James out of me because there was no way this was going to end with a successful vaginal delivery. How could it? I was still curled in the fetal position and didn’t even have the strength to stand up without assistance.

She reminded me my body was designed to do this, and that many babies had been delivered with women in the very position I was in. NOT what I wanted to hear, doc! See, my whole dream was to do this thing unmedicated. To do so would require all kinds of pain management tactics, none of which included “just lay there and cry as your stomach cramps”. There needed to be walking and swaying and bouncing and eating and drinking (two things of which I had not done for 7+ hours at this point) and the ability to stand up would be required. This whole food poisoning birthing thing — it wasn’t going to work. We all talked options and kept the conversation going. Ideally, the fluids would do their job (I did finally get an IV, wahoo!) and we’d be back home before midnight.

Within 2 hours (feeling decently better from the IV but still feeling contractions) the nurse checked me to give us data to decide — was I going home or were we going upstairs to have a baby? Sure enough, I’d progressed well (for labor, at least!) and was dialated to 6cm. That means “active labor”. Yep, we weren’t going home, James was coming, one way or another and around midnight, I was admitted officially as a laboring mama.

Could I actually do this?? I told my doctor I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could. She’d delivered Tabby via C-section almost 30 months to the day before, and I told her I had a feeling we’d end up in the OR again. I was too tired, too nauseas, unable to keep anything to sustain me down, and even though the IV had helped tremendously I was still unable to even sit up in bed, let alone have the strength to push a baby out of my body.

The goal at that point, for our whole birth team, was how do we get me stronger? Still connected to the IV, getting as much fluid as possible, we decided to add two medications. One was a nausea reduction medicine, the other was a low dose pain killer that wouldn’t make the pain go away but would dull it enough for me to hopefully get a little sleep. Sleep was the goal. If I could just sleep, we all thought I’d have a fighting chance.

Sure enough, minutes after the medications were administered I passed out cold, waking about 90 minutes later feeling a little more capable. I COULD DO THIS…I think!

Breathing through contractions at one point I muttered something and a nurse asked me to repeat myself … “God will supply all my needs.”

Of all the mantras and battle cries and Truths about birth, that’s the one I clung to during that stage of labor. I had no idea how I’d even gotten to that point but I knew there was only one way through — THROUGH — and if God had brought me to it, He was going to bring me through it!! GOD WILL SUPPLY ALL MY NEEDS.

While I’d slept, my body progressed well on it’s own (such a blessing!) and after waking from my superwoman power nap, an exam revealed I was 8cm dilated. Another exam an hour or so later showed I had not progressed anymore and around 4am the doctor asked if we could break my water.

Knowing once my water broke things would move quickly and I’d want and need our doula present, we asked for 30 more minutes for her to get to the hospital — a God gifted miracle she could be there. When we met Katrina, before signing a contract, there were two days in June we knew she’d be physically unavailable. June 12th and 13th. My mom delivered both John and I late, Tabby wasn’t early, so genetically, we assumed I’d be later then my due date as well. Her being MIA two weeks before my due date didn’t intimidate us…HA!

Despite her expectation check that she’d be unavailable, she made herself available anyway. Participating in a fitness competition a short drive away, she got home at midnight after a full day of competing, caught an hour or so of sleep and a hot shower, all the while talking to us by phone through the process. A little after 5am she was at the hospital, present, in live and living color (and physical strength for stuff like pushing on my back during contractions!!!) with us, until the end. Seriously, a gift from heaven!!

At 4:35am, knowing Katrina would be pulling into the parking lot any minute, we called the nurses to have my water broken.

Thirty seconds after hanging up with the nurse, I looked down to a puddle of fluid and looked at Lukas who still had the nurse phone in hand, and laughed…guess my body thought we were talking to it with that “let’s break the water” because it broke naturally!

Contractions increased but not as much as you’d expect with a broken water. Another exam, 30 mins later, revealed it was the outer water, not inner that had broken. Breaking my water wasn’t an intervention I was planning to agree to, however, we all knew that with how exhausted I was physically, speeding the process up was our best chance of James arriving vaginally. So break it they did, and quickly the intensity of contractions ramped up.

This is where my doula was invaluable (well, she was invaluable the whole time but especially the last two hours) We were nearing the end and having her guidance with position changes and pressure points and encouragement and an explanation of what was going on in my body and a reminder that I CAN DO THIS, was exactly what I needed.

Katrina, Lukas and I had talked extensively beforehand about what I’d need in those hard moments. She’d coached him on what not to say and how to be the best cheerleader possible. I haven’t mentioned Lukas much up until now but need to brag on him — he was the PERFECT support person. He stayed right in my face and held my hand and told me I could do this, over and over and over and over. He marveled at what my body was doing and kept his eyes glued to me as a constant source of Truth — YES YOU CAN.

The last two hours are a jumbled mess in my brain. I spent a lot of time standing by the bed with my arms propped up on pillows, swaying. There was a lot of grunting and groaning and guttural noises. There was a lot of remembering to breathe through it (oh do I have a whole blog post to write on this topic!!). At some point the swaying got too tiring and my legs were giving out. I transitioned to a tabletop position on the bed, more swaying, more back rubbing by Katrina, more hand holding and cheerleading from Lukas. At one point I asked Lukas to pray. I’d say I couldn’t do it and the whole room would erupt in “yes you can!”

A nurse called for “more back up” and I looked at her and said “WHAT IS WRONG?” She said, “oh sweetie, absolutely nothing, you’re about to meet your son and I need my team on deck to be around when he gets here.”

We were almost there.

Table top position got tiring and I asked Katrina what I should try next. “What does your body want to do?” That was a question she asked often throughout the process, reminding me my body knew how to do this.

Compared to the contractions + food poisoning cramps I was having at the start of the process, contractions weren’t all that hard. Sure, they weren’t fun, but they also weren’t as bad as I expected. And maybe that’s comparatively. When Katrina made her first home visit to our house, we talked through my fears of being weak and incapable of handling the pains of childbirth. She talked me through birth pain versus pain I’ve experienced without purpose (migraine life!). When I have a migraine it’s two days of solid pain. There’s occasional relief thanks to ice packs and peppermint oil and sleep but typically it’s 24-48 hours of thumping pain on the right side of my head and there’s NO POINT to it, just agony.

Labor pain, for me, was totally different. For starters, it was a come and go pain. Yes, the pain was INTENSE, but at the very point I didn’t think I could handle it (and told everyone I couldn’t do it only to be reminded with a sacred chorus of voices I COULD), there was a breather. I’d have at least a moment of relief before another wave of pain. And the pain had PURPOSE. There was a point to the suffering, there was, dare I say, BEAUTY, in the pain, knowing at the end I’d be holding my son in my arms.

That’s my take on contractions.

But pushing.

Oh hell.

Pushing was another thing entirely.

Straight from the pits of hell was that experience.

And I started doing so around 6am.

The team of people in the room would tell me to push. And then push again. And when I literally thought the entire bottom half of my body was going to explode, to push even harder.

For days afterwards, Lukas would get choked up talking about witnessing me in this stage. He said I went to a depth of myself he’d never before seen, and tears would come to his eyes as he talked about how proud he was of me.

Yep, I thought pushing was going to be the death of me. And yet, at the hardest point, when there was no turning back and the only way THROUGH WAS THROUGH!! Something deep inside me DID push him out. All 7lbs 9oz, 19.5 inches of James Paul Fortunato was laid on my chest and we met our son!!

Pushing him out into the world was literally the HARDEST THING I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most healing. The story I’ve told myself through my migraine journey is “I’m weak” “I have a low pain tolerance” etc. and this was an atta girl gift from the Lord, those things are NOT true about myself!!! I am so strong and powerful and Jesus is in me working in big and beautiful ways!!! So take that enemy with all your lies 👊🏼

I have very few pictures of the whole “James entering the world” experience. VERY unlike me, who’s constantly thinking of how to document our lives in photos. I don’t have pics of us saying bye to Tabby or on the car ride or waiting for the nurses to come check or any of the other photos I might have had if food poisoning wasn’t a part of the story.

Because of COVID, we weren’t allowed to have visitors at the hospital. No birth photographer, no Tabby meeting her brother, no parents or family coming by.

It was strange for those reasons and yet, it was exactly the way it was supposed to be. The story God wrote for James before the world began. I remember telling my son only minutes outside of my belly, “dear one, this world is a weird place but we’ll navigate it together.”

Dear sweet boy of mine, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, gifted to Team Fortunato as our fourth member. You are known, loved and cherished already. Thank you for letting me and your dad be a part of your story and we sit with expectant anticipation, on the front row, cheering you on for all the other amazing things God is going to write on the pages of your life.

We love you, James Paul Fortunato!

Xoxo, va (mommy!)

4 thoughts on “James’ birth story

  1. Virginia, So happy for you and your sweet family! James is beautiful! I hope you enjoy this special time as you become accustomed to your family of Four Fortunato’s! 🙂

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