Jill opens up about the support she received throughout the long birth of baby Israel David
Credit: TLC/Larsen&Talbert

Though Jill Dillard was as prepared as she could be for her son Israel David’s birth on April 6 (her birth plan was one of the most extensive her doctor had ever seen, she reveals), she was faced with a labor that had many starts, stops and scary ups and downs.

“I was praying to God to give me strength,” Jill, 23, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I was really scared and nervous, but I was praying.”

The star of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting and her husband Derick, 26, shared the intimate details of their son’s birth with PEOPLE exclusively, which began when her water broke in the early hours of Saturday, April 4. The Duggar family – including Jill’s mother, Michelle, 48, and sister, Jana, 25, all pitched in to help her during labor.

“Jill was telling me, ‘I don’t know when my labor is going to start. I don’t know when to think it is labor and when it is Braxton Hicks contractions,’ ” says Derick. “God answered her prayer with her water breaking because that doesn’t always happen and then she knew she was in labor.”

Neither of the Dillards had any idea what was in store for them: close to 70 hours of labor with intermittent contractions that sometimes were right on top of one another, within a minute apart.

“What I love about our story is that, at the beginning, my water broke and I was really scared,” says Jill, who is a student midwife and has attended over 60 births. “I thought, ‘I have seen so many people go through this labor thing, and I know what to expect in that aspect, and I know it is going to be really hard.’ I was really scared, really nervous because I was having that early labor freak-out moment. I said to Derick, ‘I’m really scared, pray for me.’ ”

Jill points to miraculous moments in the birth of Israel David on April 6, where she and Derick both share they felt that each part of labor was helping them understand the overall bigger picture outside their control.

“I had been praying for contractions, and when contractions did start, God made me grateful for those contractions,” she says. “When they came, even though they were really intense, I was crying, but I was saying, ‘Thank you for this contraction, God, this is what I prayed for, thank you for this.’ ”

As a student midwife, Jill had put together an extensive birth plan in her preparation for having her child at home. When things didn’t work out that way, she says her doctor told her that her birth plan – which included contingencies for Pitocin (a hormone to stimulate contractions, which she was given at the hospital before she gave birth) and a Caesarean section (also in her birth plan) – was one of the most extensive he’d ever seen.

“Though we were planning on a home birth, we were grateful to have the option of being in the hospital,” Derick says.

Jill says the support of her husband, who attended Bradley birthing classes with Jill in preparation for Israel’s arrival, was key in helping her get through her labor.

“Derick had blood blisters on his hands from doing a hip squeeze during labor,” Jill says. “No one could do it as well as he did, and when the contractions were intense, I would call him back.”

Derick says that, though he was nervous, he pushed that aside and tried to help Jill focus on getting through one contraction at a time.

“I would say, ‘Think about being on the beach on our honeymoon, just think about this one contraction, don’t think about the future ones,’ ” Derick says. (The couple spent their honeymoon at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.) “I would tell her not to think about the pain right now.”

Jill says it helped her through.

“Derick would say, ‘You’re going to get to see him, you’re going to get to see him, the pain won’t mean anything, just one contraction at a time,’ ” Jill says. “He did such a great job.”

Fans of TLC’s hit show 19 Kids and Counting can see the birth of Israel David on May 5 in advance of Mother’s Day.

For more of Jill and Derick’s exclusive interview – and to see photos of their son Israel David – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Want more Duggars? Click here to get weekly updates on the stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting in the Duggar Family Newsletter.