The Birth Story of Valor Declan at the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal

Last week, I was honored to attend a beautiful water birth at our local birth center. Instead of sharing my own story of how Declan's story unfolded, Rebekah has so graciously and eloquently agreed to share her own story...

"Valor Declan’s birth story is one woven by many answered prayers. I can’t type one sentence further without first acknowledging that God’s tender love, grace, and peace were so very present in every moment of our experience.  Valor (or Declan, as we call him) is our 3rd and final baby. Knowing this would be our last birth experience, I had prayed for several things to happen according to my heart’s desires, and God honored each one of them.

The first of these answered prayers was getting connected to the wonderful Lydia Stuemke as our birth photographer. Never having had a photographed birth, I asked God to provide a good deal for one. Within days of inquiring on a Facebook group for a reasonably priced professional, Lydia contacted me with a deal that fit what I had prayed for! It felt too good to be true!

We planned on doing a home birth with this baby, but something within me didn’t feel complete peace about it. I was interested in going to the new birth center in town, but they hadn’t received their license to open yet. Then, just 3 months before my due date, the Birth Center opened its doors! I dropped in on a whim and was given a tour, and on the spot I knew that this was the place to birth our child. God was definitely directing us where to go with this one. Now, my first two pregnancies went well beyond their due date, with both of them ending by inductions (one in the hospital, one at home). I longed to know what it would be like to experience spontaneous labor. Yet again God poured out His generous grace on me, and that’s where the rest of the story begins… 

My due date was January 2nd. Dreading the thought of potentially being pregnant past 42 weeks as I had with my last baby, I was doing everything I could to get this baby to come soon…acupressure, long walks, herbal teas, consuming vast amounts of dates, pleading with God, etc. The Sunday before Declan’s birth, my husband Andrew and I went on a date to the woods and hiked for what felt like five miles (but was probably just one or two). That night I thought I was getting sick with an intestinal bug, but this felt different than any other “virus” I’d experienced before. I was fine the next day. On Monday night, as I bounced on the birthing ball while playing cards with my family, I felt frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions, as I had been for days, but with no increasing intensity. I secretly hoped this meant that labor would be coming soon, but tried not to obsess over it (which was not easy!).

At 12:30 am Tuesday January 3rd, I awoke from sleep to a contraction and noticed that my low back was aching. I got up and went to the bathroom and started timing the next few contractions. They were consistently less than three minutes apart. I was hesitant to believe this was active labor, even though I knew the sensations were valid, but decided to contact Lydia (nearly an hour away from us), who immediately set out in our direction. Between contractions I felt completely fine, but with each one, my low back and legs ached. I woke up Andrew and we began to get ready. Andrew called Amie Hernandez, our midwife at the birth center, who encouraged us to wait 30 minutes before leaving the house since I could still talk and move during the contractions. So we waited, and by a little after 1:00 am I was undoubtedly in real labor. Somewhere in that time frame, I had also notified my doula, one of my best friends, Samantha Schoenecke, who then headed out to meet us at the birth center. We woke up my mom and dad, who were staying with us to help out, and my mom got ready and hopped in the minivan.  We left as soon as Lydia greeted us at our door. At 2:00 am we were on our way to the birth center, with soft piano music playing (Dollar Tree cds for the win!) to help me relax.  

We arrived at the birth center around 2:20 am, and were greeted softly by Amie and the staff. They had already prepped our selected birthing room #3 and had the tub filled with hot water just waiting for me. I labored a few minutes up against the bed and tub while everyone got things ready around me. It was so quiet and peaceful; I could hardly tell there was movement going on in the background. Shortly after we arrived I decided to climb into the water, which felt wonderful on my belly and body. Contractions came swiftly now, and I was getting more focused. Another midwife named Amy did a Doppler check on Declan, which proved to be a little more difficult as he had dropped down much lower in my abdomen. Between contractions we all chatted and joked, and then I became more inwardly focused. 

I changed positions in the tub several times, trying to find the most comfortable way to relax completely. Andrew climbed in with me and stroked my back, while Samantha helped me sip water and whispered encouragement. My mom acted as the second photographer, snapping away silently on her iPhone and updating family via text while Lydia swiftly and smoothly documented the unfolding events with her stealthy camera. As wave after wave of strong contractions washed over me, I internally repeated 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 from the Bible, which was so empowering: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” I prayed silently, asking God to bring our baby quickly and relieve me of this pain soon. Between contractions I was also encouraged by the birth affirmations I had made and had posted on the walls around the room, which included artwork by our 4 year-old son Judah. 

I didn’t think I was too far along in labor, so I told Andrew “once this gets really hard, I’m going to want the shower head on my back.” It wasn’t long, though, before I felt a pop and my water broke! I announced the fact, and Andrew helped me get my swim shorts off. Within seconds I was bearing down. I could hear Amie behind me then, gently coaching Andrew how to catch our baby. I don’t remember how long I pushed, but it was probably about 3 or 4 times. Since I was facing the outside of the tub and couldn’t see the birth, Andrew joyfully exclaimed, “Babe, I can see his head!” After a pause, Amie directed me to lift up my leg into an asymmetrical position, and then at 3:19 am, weighing 9 pounds & ounces and 22 inches long, out came our son. Andrew caught him and gently guided him up to my chest. 

The emotions in the moments following our son’s birth were near impossible to describe in words. I felt such a mix of joy, relief, exhaustion, shock, and wondrous awe. It will never cease to amaze me what a beautiful miracle childbirth is; to experience nine months of growing a human life inside my body, being able to bring forth my child through birth, and holding that precious bundle of wet, slippery warmth against my chest.  When Andrew placed Valor Declan in my arms, I was still catching my breath from the whirlwind of labor that had lasted just less than three hours, and, shaking with joy and exhaustion, I cried and thanked God for His grace in getting us to that moment so graciously.   

I felt so safe and loved during our time at the birth center. Not only did having my mom there to witness the birth of her grandson, my close friend at my side gently cheering me on, and my best friend of a husband tenderly supporting me through every moment of labor and birth make it a serene experience, but the atmosphere of the birth center made us feel welcomed, confident, and at home.

Amie and the staff at the birth center were incredible, making our experience there one that I’ll never forget and will forever be retelling with a grin on my face. They comforted and praised us, encouraged us, and overall provided such a sweet and tender hospitality with warmth that felt just like home. They truly made us feel in control of our birth, honoring every request we had made and ensuring we had the experience we dreamed of. Valor Declan was the first baby to be born in Room #3. The birthing room was more beautiful and luxurious than a hotel honeymoon suite, and being served cold orange juice and granola bars in bed after the birth was a delicious perk! We were invited to stay as long as we felt we needed, and were able to rest comfortably in the privacy of our room with virtually no interruption.  

Andrew had prepared to make us all breakfast, and cooked our family a delicious brunch of homemade waffles before we headed home, which we offered to the staff (all of whom felt more like good friends at that point!). Amie would have stayed and eaten with us, but she had already been up with another birth before ours and was in much need of her own bed and pillow. We ate at the big table in the luxurious kitchen of the birth center, and laughed and relived the beautiful, crazy-fast, amazing experience that had just unfolded those hours before. Not to knock on hospitals, but how many families can say they’ve enjoyed a leisurely home-cooked meal in a beautiful and comfortable kitchen at the place they’ve just given birth, with their hours-old baby snug in their arms and friendly staff stopping at the table to chat and exchange stories?

Now, with me, every birth experience from hospital to home to birth center has had its euphoric effect on me and my memory…but in conversation a week after our son’s birth, while holding my precious newborn in my arms, I commented to my family that out of all three births, our experience at the birth center ranks as my #1 favorite. A beautiful atmosphere, gorgeous home-away-from-home facilities, outstanding staff that made us feel like family, and a birth team that felt so connected to our hearts made it the best of all three birth experiences I’ve had. I am so thankful and overwhelmed by God’s goodness that covered our son’s arrival with incredible grace, and for the strength He gave me to complete the hard yet amazingly beautiful marathon that is pregnancy and natural childbirth. And I am so incredibly grateful for each person that played a vital and unforgettable role in helping us welcome our son into the world. We couldn’t have done it without them!"

birth team after birth at bloomington normal birth center

I can't recommend the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal highly enough! Their care was tender and personalized and exceeded my expectations. To learn more about working with Amie Hernandez at the birth center in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, visit their website here.


Central Illinois' Newest Birth Option - Bloomington Normal Birth Center!

Can I be real with you all for a minute? I was really not excited to move back to Central Illinois. The birth community in Hawaii was LOVELY and I had a terrific out-of-hospital birth experience in Colorado. Out of Hospital births have a HUGE spot in my heart. So, I was dreading coming back to an area that wasn't particularly friendly to those who may not want a hospital birth experience. I LOVE hospital births and think they can be fabulous options for many pregnant women, but I don't think it should be the ONLY option. 

Well, I want to introduce to you the NEWEST out of hospital birth option in Central Illinois... the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal. Now, being a home birth mama myself, I really thought I was gonna be a tough sell on the birth center. Like, why would I want to leave the comfort of my home? Riding in a car in labor is the WORST, you guys. But my expectations for the birth center were BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER. It felt like I was walking into a friend's (SUPER WELL DECORATED) home. Check this out!

When you walk in, you're greeted by an open, and welcoming living room-style waiting area. There's a cozy and inviting feel right as you walk in. I can just imagine family relaxing around the fire, waiting to meet their little one. 

Next, there's a full kitchen and dining room, complete with complimentary snacks and refreshments. Have something special you'd like to eat in labor? Bring whatever you'd like! I was given some delicious blueberry-infused water to sip on while I chatted with staff. 

Next, you can walk into the birthing suites, where there are three beautifully-decorated private rooms to chose from. Now, here's where my mind was REALLY blown. 

Isn't it STUNNING? Look how inviting these rooms are! It truly feels like home. Only you don't have to clean it or decorate it and the bathtub is ginormous ;) To the right of the bathtub, you'll find a bathroom with a separate shower. You can see that these suites were METICULOUSLY designed. 

The birth center is only the second in the state of Illinois, and the only birth center outside of Chicago. The birth center is ideal for low risk woman who desire a customized birth experience without traditional medical interventions. 

Wouldn't it be nice to see the same provider throughout your pregnancy and KNOW she's going to be the one to be there on the day of you birth? Wouldn't it be nice to let your guard down and have control over your birth experience? If those things are important to you and you're a low risk pregnant woman, I HIGHLY recommend you set up a tour! 

Want to see what giving birth at the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal really looks like? Hit play below!


Congratulations to CNM Amie Hernandez and all the staff at the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal. They're state-licensed and ready for you to welcome your baby! I'm looking forward to working with them in the future. 

For some FAQ and to connect with doulas who serve the Birth Center, click here.

To set up a tour with the birth center and for additional information, be sure to visit the Birth Center of Bloomington-Normal's website at

And seriously. Schedule that tour. Right now. You'll fall in love. 


Finn's Birth - An Unexpected Story of Hope

It was a Thursday night. We had just wrapped up dinner and were winding down for bed when my Facebook messenger dinged. I was in a group message with a friend, who volunteers for the organization, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. NILMDTS is a volunteer organization whose mission is to provide "remembrance photography to parents suffering the loss of a baby with a free gift of professional portraiture."

My friend Debbie had been asked to photograph the birth of baby Finn, who had been diagnosed with Mosaic Trisomy 13.  Tina's doctors told her that Finn may not be compatible with life and she and Jayson prepared for the worst. Debbie was there with them at their final ultrasound (see her blog here.) Finn was due to arrive by scheduled c-section the following week, but the delivery date was unexpectedly moved up, leaving them scrambling to find a photographer who could volunteer. 

Without a second thought, I said yes. It had been on my heart to volunteer and though I cried and shook at the thought of it, I needed to be there. 

I spoke to Tina, and she expected her surgery to be no earlier than 7:30 am. I got a message from her just after 3:00 am on the morning of the 8th, but my phone didn't ring. I woke up on my own, 40 minutes later and felt the urge to check my phone. When I saw her message, saying her c-section had been moved up and would be done right away, I was out the door and driving in under five minutes. 

I arrived about ten minutes before they took Tina back to the OR. 

You could feel the tension in the room as they worked. No one knew what to expect... what he would look like, how he would do, how long he would live. And then....

He was beautiful. I know none of us will ever forget the moment he was held up over the curtain. 

He looked perfect and was doing perfectly. He went down to the NICU for observation, where he had lots of eyes on him. Tina patiently waited up in the Labor & Delivery unit for a bed to open downstairs. She waited... and waited... and waited. Eight hours after Finn's birth, she was able to go down to the NICU and REALLY meet her baby.

I think the photos speak for themselves from here...

Now, they have confirmed what the prenatal tests found and know that 2.5% of Finn's cells are affected.  Since he has tested to have a VERY low amount of affected cells,  this could mean he continues life as a healthy, average kid, or it could mean that there are special considerations that come as he grows. It definitely means treasuring every moment and taking one day at a time.

It was SUCH an honor to meet Tina and Jayson and their beautiful son, Finn. I am so full of gratitude that our paths crossed and am so thankful she graciously has allowed me to share this part of their story. 

If you or someone you know are in need of a photographer for the loss of your baby, please reach out to me or to Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep for more information and support.