Gideon Theodore Harding was born at home on August 13, 2019 at 5:15 p.m. weighing nine pounds. His name means mighty warrior. He has a Jesus story that will follow him for the rest of his life.
It was my fourth pregnancy. I was low-risk with a history of fast labor, the perfect candidate for another home birth.
Despite having a 6, 4, and 2-year-old at home, I always find at least an hour each day to pray, journal, and do Bible studies. The Bible study I had been invited to had recently finished Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon. I found the study guide when I was about six months pregnant. I didn’t even know who Gideon was until June. Yet, his story fascinated me . . . and it changed me.
Instead of ignoring, neglecting, or trying to escape my weaknesses, I learned to see them as the gifts that they are, given specifically and strategically by God to unlock the door of His strength. Why didn’t I know more people named Gideon? I added it to our baby name list, but nobody liked it. We had decided to name our baby Theodore.
I was 41+ weeks pregnant and had been five centimeters dilated for about a week (how was the baby not falling out?). All of the physical symptoms I was experiencing had signaled immediate labor with the previous births, yet no steady contractions. I was over-cleaning the house every night, keeping the fridge stocked, and preparing the kids. Rinse and repeat.
I called my midwife in tears, and she came to our house and sat next to me on my bed and we talked. I asked her to do another membrane sweep, six centimeters. I believe in letting the baby choose his birth day. However, all the pre-labor mingled with the responsibility of three other kids was too much. I wanted to do something. I wanted to believe I was not going to be pregnant forever.
I was getting close to needing to discuss induction options. I’m not a fan of intervention because it usually leads to more intervention, and I did not want to do anything to jeopardize my home birth. After discussing the pros and cons with my husband, midwives, and doula, I decided to try castor oil to get labor started.
Around 1 p.m. I drank a strawberry milkshake (my second favorite flavor, just in case) mixed with castor oil. We decided that Joe should do school pickup at 3 p.m. and take the kids to his sister’s house (there went the beautiful photographs of my kids lined up around the birth tub meeting their baby brother for the first time).
With the house quiet, I busied myself laying out the little white newborn outfit I’d had for months. I tidied up the bedroom and opened the curtains so the photographer could enjoy the beautiful lighting. I could already envision the photographs of me laboring in the beautiful tub. I spotted the blue comb I had used to braid my daughter’s hair that morning and I set it on my nightstand. I had seen where laboring moms squeezed it as a distraction during labor. Within a few hours, I felt the surges come on like waves. I simply breathed through them and tried to ignore them. I would know.
It was then that my midwife Lynne texted me, “Hey, would you like me to come over?”
I didn’t like the idea of anyone in the house waiting on me to give birth, but I agreed because I didn’t want to be alone if things progressed quickly.
Lynne arrived around 4 p.m. and we chatted in my bedroom. Surges were picking up. I texted my doula and the birth photographer. (They’d been waiting as long as me.) It was happening! I smiled, looking at the photograph on the wall of Joe holding our third-born minutes after birth. I knew the photographer would capture things I wouldn’t see, as the birthing mom, and that later it would round out the entire experience. I’m pretty certain I look at my birth photos more than my wedding photos. The birth and fresh baby phase is such a short experience, fueled by so much emotion. Photographs seem to jolt the experience back to life.
The birth team is so amazing in that they do this thing called “holding space” where they journey alongside me without judgment as I wander off into labor land and other unknown destinations, and they are completely willing to end up wherever I need to go. When Joe returned, he put on some music, lit some candles, and finished up the dishes left over from lunch.
Things progressed pretty quickly, and they asked if I wanted to get in the tub. Yes, please? It feels like an epidural, warm relief all around. There is always a point where I envision what has to happen—head, shoulders, knees and toes—and I want to resist so badly, all the while knowing it was the point of no return. The dominoes have already been set into motion. There’s no point in resisting. Let it go. Transition. Surrender. Breakthrough. I would meet my baby very soon—the moment I had been waiting for!
The midwives checked me, smiled, and said, “Let’s have a baby!” They checked the baby’s heartbeat, strong. My doula pressed a cool, wet washcloth to my forehead. The sunlight was warm. The house was still, calm, and quiet. I squeezed my trusty little blue comb and let out all the noises—I think they’re the most human noises that exist—nobody flinched. And then I collected myself, felt the baby’s head engage, and I let my body do what it was made to do. I didn’t waste energy making noises, I knew about the fetal ejection reflex, and I knew I didn’t need to count or push (although I couldn’t help it), I just let my body expel the baby and did my best to embrace its direction.
My water broke. With the next surge, the baby’s head came out. My arm muscles were exhausted from bracing against the sides of the tub. I kept telling myself to stay limp and it would be over with. With a deep push, his body was expelled, and he was immediately placed on my chest. Relief!
Except. Something felt different. Babies are usually blue or pink or make a cry. He was limp, pale, and white with an olive green tint. We rubbed his back and I spoke to him. Midwives are guardians of normal. Lynne knew something wasn’t normal. And I knew they knew something wasn’t normal. Lynne immediately called for his cord to be clamped (there went delayed cord clamping and first latch) and she began applying chest compressions. I watched, helplessly in the tub, as Lynne’s two fingers pressed into the hollow of his little chest, his arms dangling like a lasagna noodle.
“Wake up. Do something. Theodore, it’s mommy. I love you. Wake up,” I screamed as they placed him on the tile floor. I could see, from over the edge of the tub, Joe was calling 911.
Doniece, the second midwife, placed her stethoscope to his chest, “No pulse. No heartbeat.”
His eyes were closed. He was silent. Still.
“Fix him!” I cried. “FIX him! Breathe, Gideon.” Lord, save him, I prayed. I wanted my baby. I needed him. He could not just disappear.
Joe called our neighbor Clayton, a fire captain. By the grace of God, he was home and arrived within minutes. Everyone was working on the baby and everyone was equally frustrated and soothed by the 911 operator’s questions. The seconds, minutes were accumulating in my mind and adding up to . . . impossible.
I couldn’t cry, so I leaned over the tub and said, “Gideon, be like Gideon. Lord! Save my baby, use him.”
Clayton scooped up his pale, floppy body, half-wrapped in a blue bath towel Lynne had handed him, and bolted out of the bathroom. The photographer had put her camera down.
Doniece, calm and collected, helped me deliver the placenta. There was a tight knot, the size of a large grape, in the umbilical cord. I ran it between my fingers. Without a baby to distract me or breastfeeding to tend to, and my husband gone, they cleaned and dried me off and helped me out of the tub. I lay in bed, silent. I couldn’t even cry. My doula held space for me by reading me Scripture while the midwives were in the kitchen talking on the phone and examining the placenta. I watched as the lights flashed on the extra fire truck at the end of our long driveway. I pictured a tiny baby coffin. What would I tell our children? Would we be planning a funeral tomorrow?
Doniece came over to take my temperature. I asked her, “Did God do this because I tried to take it into my own hands with the castor oil?” She, with her dark beautiful skin and clear eyes, took my hand and looked into my eyes, “That is not in God’s character, now is it?” I held her gaze and shook my head.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Using the power and authority given to me, I commanded all spirits of death to leave, in the name of Jesus. Just then, Clayton came in, with tears in his eyes, and asked me what he could do. I told him to pray with me. He held my hand and we prayed. All I heard was, “this boy is going to grow up to love you, Lord, and do great things for You.” With that came the peace that passes all understanding.
Shock is a gift. It kept me focused on my own recovery while keeping me from falling apart emotionally. It was a key that the Lord was giving me to unlock the full experience of His strength in my life. In Romans 8:26-27 it says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
When I couldn’t cry or even come up with the words to pray, I never doubted that the Lord was very near, very present. He was not judging or condemning me. He was holding space. I knew nothing could separate me or my baby from the love of God. He knew the desires of my heart. He is a good and faithful Father who wants the best for His children. I knew He loved my baby more than I ever could; my love for this child was but a speck of sand in the desert compared to the love He has for him.
“Do you want me to make you something to eat?” asked my doula.
I nodded and she returned with a large plate of lasagna. I was starving, yet I felt ashamed to be eating while my son was . . . gone. How was I supposed to be acting? What time had he been born? How much did he weigh? Did he have dimples like his oldest sister? The food helped immensely to give me physical strength.
My doula drove me to the hospital. About halfway there, Joe called me for my blood type.
“Do you want to see him?” I thought it was cruel of him to ask me to see our son over the phone. “Can you hear him?”
Hear him? HEAR HIM?
“HE’S ALIVE???” I gasped.
Joe activated FaceTime and there, before my eyes, was a screaming, crying baby. My heart. Our baby. Crying. Alive. He had not disappeared. The Lord had breathed life into him!
“I changed his name by the way. It’s Gideon.”
“Are you serious?” Tears streamed down my face. He had heard me. The name I always wanted! Wow, when the Lord works on one end you can be certain He is working on the other end!
When we arrived at the valet, my doula got me a wheelchair and Joe wheeled me to the NICU. We sat in the lobby and we talked and cried and prayed while we waited to be allowed to see the baby. I learned that Joe had followed the ambulance, alone in his truck. They had taken the long way—we were already 25 minutes away—and they had to completely pull over and stop the ambulance several times, leaving Joe to assume the worst. I am awed by the composure and grace with which Joe handled the barrage of decisions he was faced with.
Finally, the receptionist called out, “Okay, they’re ready for Rescue’s parents.” Rescue. I was going to get to see my baby! I knew my baby needed me, that my presence would make a difference in his recovery. I followed Joe’s lead, as we eagerly washed our hands. Then he led me to our little station in the NICU where a nurse was leaning over his laptop. It was surprisingly quiet. And there, underneath a soft, glowing light was our pink baby. As I got closer, I observed his perfect body. Ten fingers, ten toes. His head was covered in tape and wire and tubes. I had a flashback to his hair at birth—dark and even.
“Hi, Gideon. It’s Mommy,” I whispered, pressing the back of my finger to his exposed cheek, so soft.
Gideon was being treated for Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). He would spend 72 hours naked, on a cooling blanket. He’d had two blood transfusions and one platelet transfusion. The potential long-term outcomes of hypoxia (lack of oxygen for an extended period of time): brain damage, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, seizures, hearing/vision limitations, sensory processing issues, speech delays and language disorders, etc. An MRI after the 72-hour period would give us an indication of what to expect.
My baby was breathing. We could deal with neurological issues later. I would never stop giving gratitude for his breath alone. One morning my mother-in-law came in with a stack of note cards, pens, and a Bible. I wrote out several verses and taped the cards to his window. I read and re-read the Anti-Anxiety book and healing/faith promises from a Bible study I had taught earlier that summer, receiving the peace the Lord had for me. I was Gideon’s advocate. As his mother, I would believe in him more than anyone.
I was not a patient, so I had no room or bed. We slept on makeshift cots, floors, and office chairs. I was terribly uncomfortable. My hips ached, my feet tingled, and I was still very much postpartum (I had to navigate that situation as best I could from my backpack). We stared at monitors, watching the numbers dance. We learned which beeps to ignore. I pumped incessantly to keep up with the demands of the feeding schedules.
I remember one morning going to the hospital, alone. I stood in the Wendy’s line waiting for coffee, and I just started crying. I just wanted the cashier to give me a hug. Or anyone. A janitor. Anyone. I sat and drank my coffee alone and wiped my tears on the tri-folded brown napkins.
I stopped at the bathroom to clean up. A lady in the stall next to me was singing worship music. As I was washing my hands in the sink, the lady emerged. She had beautiful dark skin and bright eyes, she reminded me of Doniece. She asked me when I was due, smiling at my postpartum bump. I told her my baby was in the NICU upstairs. And then I started crying.
She walked over and asked me, “Do you believe in Jesus?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I smiled and nodded.
“You go right up to that baby, you put your hands on him and you say, ‘In the name of Jesus, this baby is healed. He is going home. He is going home.'”
I took the elevator to the third floor. I set my stuff down on the window ledge. When the nurse left Gideon’s station, I looked around and waited until I couldn’t see anyone in sight. I stood up and put my left hand on top of Gideon’s bandaged head and my right hand cupping his wired feet. I whispered out loud, “In the name of Jesus you are healed, Gideon. In the name of Jesus. You are going home.” I kissed my baby. I sat back down and waited.
We prayed for everything. For his heart murmur to close, for his breathing to improve, that he would not have any seizures, that he would tolerate bottle feeds, that he would take to the breast, that he would get the MRI in the 24-hour window, that his MRI would be perfect.
His heart murmur closed, he was weaned off oxygen, he never had a seizure, he bottle fed, he breastfed, got his MRI within hours of being off the cooling therapy and his MRI came back perfect. On August 21st, we brought Gideon home, in his little white newborn outfit.
After giving birth, I entered what is called the fourth trimester, the time when my midwives and doula support me from home. They check in on me and make sure I’m covered with things like meals, childcare, provide breastfeeding and emotional support, etc. It was during this time that I asked my doula to read a draft of my birth story. This is what she shared with me:
“Something I remember that wasn’t in there is that when Lynne announced that there was no heartbeat, you asked everyone in the room to pray. And while we prayed, silently and out loud, they got a heartbeat again. In remembering your birth, this stands out to me as the moment God restored his life. I really think it was because of the prayers that were spoken out loud and given silently. It was an amazing moment. Even though he wasn’t able to breathe on his own yet, his heart was beating on its own!”
We have no explanation, so we give God all the glory! Hallelujah!
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night
It’s true, I will rescue you
I will never stop marching to reach you
In the middle of the hardest fight
It’s true, I will rescue you
“Rescue” -Lauren Daigle
Also, something very special that I noticed in my birth photos . . . I had two Polaroids of my mom giving birth to me on the shelf above the bathtub. With every birth, I have always missed having my mom there, another reason I value my birth team so highly, those who hold space for my mom’s physical absence.