Before getting pregnant, I didn't know if I'd ever be the type of mom that would choose to write a birth story.

It's not that I don't love them. I do; in fact, once I found out I was pregnant, I devoured all the birth stories. Good, bad, ugly—any and every account was fair game in my book. I was hungry for knowledge and curious about what worked (and what didn't work) for other women in the oh-so-daunting labor and delivery process. Even the ones that scared me were read with abandon, because regardless of the terrifying bits, they always had a happy ending.

But for some reason, I felt that my own birth story wouldn't be nearly as interesting or worth sharing with the world, and that perhaps it should be kept just between me and my husband, close family and friends.

Then, sometime within the last nine months, it occurred to me: When have I ever not openly shared an experience that was near and dear to my heart, whether it be through my writing or by word of mouth? And why should the birth of my first baby be any different?

With that said, dear reader, I'm delighted to tell you the story of our new son, Jude Michael's birth. It will forever be one I cherish.

40 Weeks and 5 Days Pregnant

On the morning of Tuesday, November 12th (five days after Jude's due date), I woke up at 4:30am to contractions that felt like mild-to-moderate period cramps.

Call it wishful thinking, but I had a sneaking suspicion that this was IT—this was the day, thank God. Whether I just knew it in my bones or was simply willing it to happen, I couldn't possibly stay in bed any longer. I had things to do! So I snuck out of our bedroom quietly, leaving Scott to his slumber—if this was the real deal, he would need it!—and went into the kitchen to brew a very strong batch of raspberry leaf tea.

Over the next few hours, as my contractions grew closer together, I did everything I could think of to ready myself and our home—like staying fueled and hydrated (basically snacking every two hours to keep my energy levels high), texting loved ones, tidying up, and making sure our hospital bags were good to go. Luckily, Scott was able to work from home so we could jet out at any moment.

Around noon, I noticed that my contractions had slowed a bit and were only occurring once every 20 to 30 minutes. To get things moving and grooving again, Scott and I put on our warmest coats and set out for our regular stroll around the neighborhood. Even though it was the coldest day of the year so far (a brisk 25 degrees with a wind chill factor that made it feel like 15), the sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, and there was the hint of a full moon peeking through the clouds—an absolutely perfect day to have a baby, I thought!

Scott pointed out how this would probably be our last walk as a family of two, and after letting that realization sink in, I replied: "Well, we're as ready as we're ever gonna be, so let's hope it is!"

For the rest of the afternoon, I took turns sitting Indian style on the couch and squatting on my fitness ball to give my body the best chance of furthering labor. Whatever I was doing definitely seemed to do the trick, because by the time 3pm rolled around, the contractions were coming on every five to ten minutes and were causing me much more discomfort—but only in my lower back and abdomen.

Still, I remember thinking that I could totally handle this amount of pain. Yeah, it was uncomfortable, but it wasn't anything like I'd imagined labor to feel like. Looking back, I can't help but scoff at my naïveté! Those first contractions sure are misleading, y'all.

To the Hospital We Go (Or Not)

Everyone told me to prepare for hours upon hours of labor with my first kid, and the last thing I wanted to do was arrive at the hospital early only to be turned away—so I hunkered down for as long as I could bear it. I kept telling myself I'd be better off on my couch than in a hospital bed, but to be honest, I was starting to get pretty anxious laboring at home. My fear of having a baby in the car finally won out (LOL), and at approximately 3:30pm, we gathered our stuff to leave. (But not without first doing a clean sweep of the kitchen! I'll never forget Scott's expression of both amusement and resignation when he saw me trying to wipe down the breakfast table and breathe through a contraction at the same time.)

On the way, I called my doctor just to make sure, and—to my disappointment—she told me to to try to stay put for a little bit longer, until the contractions radiated into my upper abdomen as well. Not yet ten minutes out, we begrudgingly turned around and headed back home.

Once back, I texted my Aunt Sonya (who happens to be the director of nursing at Women's and Children's in Lafayette) to get a second opinion, and she immediately responded that if my uterus was contracting every eight minutes or less—regardless of where I felt them, which could be dependent on baby's position—it was definitely go-time.

For all of you who second-guess yourself as often as I do, here's a lesson in both childbirth and in life: Follow your intuition! It'll never lead you astray.

Right before we got back in the car (ugh), my parents stopped by the house to give both Scott and me a quick hug and send us off with well wishes. In the brief time that they were there, my mom witnessed me double over in pain from a contraction, and worriedly told us to leave ASAP. Regardless of what my doc had said, we all knew this birth was going down soon!

Game Time

We arrived at the hospital around 4:30pm, and after filling out some paperwork, I was wheeled into a room in the labor and delivery unit. Our nurse, Kimberly, checked my cervix immediately and said I was 4 cm dilated and 100% effaced, which meant I could be admitted! Whew, was I relieved (but not particularly surprised TBH).

She strapped two belts around my belly to monitor contractions and baby's heartbeat, took a few vials of blood for testing, and put in a saline lock just in case I needed fluids. Thankfully, even with the monitors on, I could freely walk around the room—the one request I had specified in my birth plan. I'll tell ya, the only thing tougher than laboring unmedicated, in my opinion, is laboring unmedicated in the supine position. Which is why I chose to remain standing and hunched over the bed for most of the process, with Scott helpfully massaging my lower back. Sitting or laying down through the contractions was just too painful, especially as they became more intense.

Right away, Kimberly told me my options for pain medication: They didn't offer a "walking epidural" or nitrous oxide, but I could get narcotics (which might make the baby sleepier upon arrival) or a regular epidural. I still hadn't made up my mind about pain management, but I told her I'd let her know as soon as I felt I needed something. She said she wouldn't ask me about it again, but that the longer I waited, the harder it might be for me to stay still during the ten minutes or so it would take for the anesthesiologist to place the epidural. This kind of made me nervous (I could barely sit still as it was!), and I actually kept putting it off out of fear of inconveniencing others and/or embarrassing myself. Yep, even in active labor, I was worried about being a nuisance! (Where all my fellow type nines at?!)

At my request, Scott streamed my Holiday Favorites playlist from his phone so that the soothing sounds of Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé would help distract me from the unpleasant pressure spreading throughout my midsection. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this thing without meds.

Zero to Sixty

The hours actually passed much more quickly than I was expecting, but as we were approaching 7pm, my concerned husband gently reminded me that if I was going to get the epidural, it needed to be pronto. And he was right: Each contraction felt like a tidal wave of pain, and they were hitting me every 60 seconds. It took all of my strength to breathe through them without bawling, and I wasn't sure how long I could last. My doctor hadn't arrived yet, and I figured we were still early on in the game—so, in between contractions, I swallowed my nerves and asked our new nurse, Kim (whose name was a funny coincidence!), if it was too late for that epidural.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, I'll never forget what happened next.

Kimberly (our first nurse), who was technically off the clock but must have overheard my request, swiftly entered the room and asked to check my cervix before I made any decisions. As she predicted, I was already 7 cm dilated!

"You've got this, Emily," she urged. "I'm betting it'll be one more hour, tops."

My love language is words of affirmation, and Scott swears that as soon as she uttered those words, he saw the expression on my face transform from one of fear and doubt to one of warrior-like determination. As scared as I was about the pain, I was rejuvenated by this news. Only three more centimeters to go before baby could make his debut!

But that didn't mean it was going to be a cakewalk. When my doctor finally arrived at 8pm, I was still leaning over the side of the bed as long, guttural moans that I didn't even know I was capable of making echoed from my mouth. At least, this is what it felt like to me, but Scott jokes that my "moans" sounded more like baby animal whimpers. Either way, staying focused on my breathing was becoming harder and harder—which is why, when the doc announced at 8 cm that it was time to break my water, I was ecstatic. Another step closer to sweet relief!

One Final Push

Little did I know that things were about to get even more brutal. (Apparently, this is what they call the "transition" stage.) Once my bag of waters was empty, the contractions became almost unbearable, and within half an hour, I felt a huge amount of pressure and an urge to push. Scott called the nurse in, and she went to track down my doctor, who was running back and forth between me and another patient that had been laboring for the last 24 hours. When I heard this, I sent a small prayer of thanks up to the heavens and counted my blessings!

I was close to 9 cm by this point, but baby's head was so low that my doctor felt she could get me the rest of the way there herself. I'm still not sure what she did to manipulate that (and I really don't want to know)—but I didn't care, because mere moments later, she was calling in the labor unit's SWAT team and gearing up for delivery.

"We're gonna have a birthday party in no time!" she exclaimed as I mentally prepared myself for what was sure to be the hardest part of the whole shebang.

And, not gonna lie, pushing was hard. But not for the reasons I would've guessed. For instance, I don't remember the "ring of fire" that most women experience being that awful—even though I did end up suffering 1st and 2nd degree tears. I'm actually quite thankful for the slight burning sensation I felt because I believe it helped me push more efficiently. (I seriously don't know if I would have had the motivation to push so hard without that burn!) The contractions seemed to kind of let up here, too, or maybe they simply faded into the background because I had a job to do. But the actual act of pushing was a completely different story.

Scott held onto my left leg and Kim held onto my right. During each contraction, the nurses instructed me to take one full cleansing breath, and then hold the second breath while pushing as hard and long as I could. Then I'd take a quick third breath and resume pushing, rinse and repeat. By the third or fourth round of this, I was bearing down with so much force and concentration that I'm still surprised I didn't pop every blood vessel in my head. That, for me, was the worst part.

When, after what seemed like ages (but had actually only been about 15 minutes), my OB announced that he was crowning, my response was super classy: "Thank God, because this SUCKS."

Everyone in the room humored me with a chuckle, though I was being dead serious, and proceeded to encourage me further. What kept me going was my doctor's enthusiastic report that he had a full head of dark brown hair! Only a few more pushes, she told me, and he would enter the world. I think I remember one of the nurses asking me if I wanted to touch his head, but I politely declined—I needed to stay focused.

Truthfully, I've never felt more determined to do anything in my life than I felt in that delivery room at 9pm. I was a split second away from meeting my boy, the babe I'd held close to my heart for the last nine months, and dwelling on this reality gave me the boost I needed to see it through. (And, I mean, what other choice did I have?) After two more rounds of pushing with all my strength, I felt one last big stretch as his head and shoulders emerged in one fell swoop. As you can probably imagine, the sense of relief I experienced in that moment was so amazing that I couldn't help but let out a gusty laugh.

In a ninja-like fashion, the nurses placed him on my bare chest and wiped him clean as he offered up a soft little sob. (Birth is traumatic for babies, too!) At first glance, I noticed how much he looked like his father—and when I turned to point this out to Scott, his eyes were wide and filled with tears, obviously in awe of what he had just witnessed. This made me laugh even more (Scott NEVER cries, y'all) as my heart just about bursted with joy to see him marvel at his son.

Hey, Jude

The rest of the process was kind of a blur, as Scott cut the umbilical cord and I delivered the placenta. All I could think about was this healthy 7 pound, 9 ounce baby boy lying on my chest, and how he was completely ours.

It wouldn't be until two hours later that we would decide on the name Jude (after St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, who I prayed to constantly throughout my pregnancy for baby's health and safety). He was obviously watching over our tiny family, and after getting to know our little dude a bit better, Scott and I felt the name suited him. Michael is Scott's middle name, and it seemed like the best choice for Jude as well.

"Welcome to the world, Jude Michael," I whispered to the sleeping baby on my chest once we reached our decision. 

During our 36-hour stay in the hospital, Jude would become known by all the nurses on staff as the boy with the long eyelashes. Even though that gorgeous feature definitely didn't come from me, I gleamed with pride every time someone mentioned it (and it must have been a hundred times).

A Woman Empowered

At one of the first prenatal classes we took back in September, our teacher opened the 6-hour workshop by explaining that during her stint in the Peace Corps at the beginning of her nursing career, she had observed an interesting difference in American and foreign women's approach to childbirth.

"The women in these third world countries didn't have nearly the rights or privileges we have here in the States," she said. "And yet, during childbirth, they were the most empowered women I'd ever seen. Whether it was their first or fifth time giving birth, they were confident in their ability as a woman to do the dang thing."

Her observation stuck with me. Why are American women, who have access to everything we could possibly need or want, so frightened and unsure of ourselves when it comes to birthing babies, while women living in less than ideal circumstances overseas embrace it as the most natural thing in the world?

I'll be the first to admit that childbirth is scary. It's painful, raw, exhausting, and downright excruciating at times—both mentally and physically. But it's also incredibly empowering, and dare I say, miraculous. As women, why aren't we prouder of that? And more importantly, why do we doubt ourselves?

We should believe with every fiber of our being that we can do it, and do it well—because it's in our DNA. It's who we are. And, ladies, if we can give life to our children through who knows how many grueling hours of sweat, pain, and tears... Well, we can do anything.

So regardless of what you're up against right now, let me be the Kimberly in your life, and just say: You've got this.