By Alicia Dennis
April 27, 2015 12:00 PM

EXCLUSIVE People EXCLUSIVE

Baby Israel David Dillard is peacefully sleeping, his arms dangling as his father, Derick, cradles him in the crook of his elbow and his mom, Jill, stares at them both adoringly. “I love cuddling with him,” Jill says, beaming. “I love seeing Derick hold him and watching the two of them fall asleep.” Jill shifts gingerly on the sofa in the Dillard family’s living room in Rogers, Ark., managing a soft smile through the pain of recovering from the unexpected caesarean section she had five days earlier to bring her 9 lb. 10 oz., 23-inch son into the world on April 6. “His birth didn’t go as expected,” she admits. “But having him here—it’s worth all of it. I wouldn’t do anything differently.”

Coming from a woman who endured a dramatic labor that spanned nearly 70 hours, it seems like a shocking assertion. But for Jill, 23, the second-oldest daughter born into the conservative Christian Duggar family – made famous by TLC’s hit show 19 Kids and Counting – each painful, and sometimes scary, moment leading up to her son Israel’s birth was all part of a bigger plan, even if it wasn’t exactly part of the birth plan she wanted. “We took on everything that happened during our labor with prayer,” says Jill, a student midwife, who had hoped to deliver her baby in her home. “We could feel that God was with us.”

Israel’s big day was a long time coming. After first learning they were expecting just weeks after their June 21, 2014, wedding, Jill and Derick, 26, were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their little boy. When her March 24 due date came and went, “I told myself first-time moms often go a week and a half over, so don’t get discouraged,” says Jill, who took to eating spicy foods in the hopes that it would kick-start labor. Finally, after 41 weeks and five days of pregnancy, her water broke in the early hours of April 4. With her contractions still intermittent, Jill managed to get some sleep, get in a morning appointment with the chiropractor –”I wanted to get aligned before birth,” she says – indulge in a couple’s pedicure alongside Derick and take a two-and-a-half-mile walk to get labor going. “We didn’t tell anyone else that her water had broken,” says Derick. Adds Jill: “We didn’t want anyone to be freaking out.”

When contractions became regular, Jill settled into the bedroom where she planned to deliver. Having tested positive for a common bacterial strain, strep B, that can cause problems during delivery, she began taking antibiotics via an IV, and then decided to take a dose of castor oil, a home remedy some feel can ultimately lead to increased contractions. Indeed, three hours later, the contractions began fast and furious. At this point the baby was head down, but the back of his head was against Jill’s back, in what is known as a posterior position, which can make it more painful to deliver. “We tried different positions to move him,” says Jill, who had hoped for a natural delivery. “I have seen so many people go through this, and I know what to expect, and I know it is going to be really hard,” she says. “But I honestly thought the delivery would go quicker because my labor was so intense.” To distract his wife, Derick played spiritual songs the couple both love and read Bible verses and inspirational sayings. “I was nervous,” says Derick, “but I didn’t want to show that or make her more fearful.”

But after 20 hours in labor – with contractions just one minute apart – Jill wasn’t progressing, and her family began to get worried. Jill’s mother, Michelle, her sister Jana, 25, and friend Rachel Goad, a fellow student midwife, were there helping out. “There were times I looked into her eyes during contractions where I wanted to cry. I know how horrific it is to go through that, and I did everything I could not to break into tears,” says Michelle. Still just a few centimeters dilated, Jill saw a faint stain of meconium (the earliest waste of an unborn infant, and often a sign of fetal distress) and decided it was time to go to the hospital. “That was a blessing to know very clearly that we needed to go,” she says. A second dose of castor oil then made the 40-minute trip to the hospital challenging. “I was praying to God to give me strength,” says Jill. “I was really scared and nervous, but I was praying.”

Once they were in the hospital, the complications continued. Jill initially declined Pitocin, a hormone that greatly speeds up labor, and tried to get by without an epidural before finally giving in to both the pain medication and Pitocin. “We were trying to exhaust all our options but do it within our birth plan,” she says. But by then, the baby had flipped into a transverse breach position (sideways and upside down), was experiencing irregular heart rates and had not yet descended. “The doctor did have some concerns,” says Jill, so the couple decided to proceed with a C-section before the situation grew critical. “She had labored for so long. There’s no shame in that, there’s no shame in not progressing, there’s no shame in getting a C-section,” says Derick. “It was confirmation for us that God was leading us,” says Jill. “We were grateful for God showing us what to do in time.” Hoping to have their own supersize family (“We want as many kids as God will bless us with,” says Derick), “we told the doctor, ‘Stitch me up really well,’ ” says Jill. (Doctors can sometimes advise against vaginal births after a C-section.) In her case, Jill says, “the doctor told me he has no doubt I’ll be able to have a vaginal delivery the next time.”

In the final minutes of April 6, with Derick scrubbed in and standing by to cut the cord, their baby son Israel finally arrived, screaming and squirming, weighing in at nearly 10 lbs. and setting a length record at the hospital for 2015. “I looked at him and said, ‘He is so beautiful,’ ” says Jill. With Jill in recovery, Derick bonded with Israel. “I sang ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ the song I’d sung to him every night when Jill was pregnant,” he says. “I looked at him and thought, ‘This is my son. I love this person.’ ”

One week later Jill and Derick say all the pain, surprises and massive sleep deprivation are nothing compared to the joy they feel as proud new parents. Jill is nursing exclusively, and family members on both sides have been coming by to lend their support – including bringing new clothes for the little boy so big he never got to wear his newborn-size onesies. “My mother told me I could have had three children in the time it took me to have this one,” says Jill with a laugh. “I love our birth story because it bonded us so well. It brought us through something amazing together.” The new mother pauses and cuddles Israel a little tighter. “It was a journey that we needed to go through.”

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