Made for This Birth

Made for This Birth Logo White .png
Made for This Birth Logo White .png

Time for another of my own birth stories because this baby somehow turns seven tomorrow! Benedict is my fifth son on earth and the one with the craziest birth. I want to give a warning of sorts that this is not a typical birth or situation, although it likely could have been. It ended up being a transfer from home to hospital so if that type of story isn't helpful for you right now, no need to read! While the overall outcome was good, looking back with what I have since learned about breech babies, I would have made different decisions.

The Lead Up

My Benedict Raphael was the most different of my five full term pregnancies, the most different of my births. The whole pregnancy something felt just…different. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was but I certainly battled a lot of fear of the birth and the pregnancy itself was harder than my others. More sickness, more fatigue, more swelling, more weight gain, way more emotions. While I felt the similar readiness at the end to be done being pregnant, it was coupled with a fear of what adding another baby to the family would mean as well as the knowledge that there was no way out of the pregnancy than through birth. And some part deep down inside of me knew that this birth would be different. I didn’t know what that meant so I just planned as best I could for a normal home birth.

All four older babies were born in the 39th week and while I was so ready to end pregnancy, the weekend I reached 39 weeks, I went to bed praying that labor wouldn’t start. It had been an absolutely crazy weekend filled with a family party, baseball games, and notice that we had to go pick up our two new hives of bees. I knew there was no way I’d be able to give birth in the exhausted state that I was in, weary to the core and not getting to bed until almost midnight. Thankfully, labor didn’t begin that weekend nor in the few days after. But his head was definitely down low and engaged. We were both physically ready and it would be soon.

A few days later around dinner time I felt him shift a bit and I could tell he had moved but it simply felt like he was just a little crooked. It didn't feel good but I wasn’t worried since after a few babies, it becomes more likely that baby doesn’t engage until right at labor. It now felt like his head was in my lower left side of my pelvis and his bottom was diagonal to the top right underneath my ribs. I figured he would settle back into place soon and smoothly. It became extremely uncomfortable and forced me on the couch for most of that evening.

The next day I had a late afternoon appointment with my midwife and mentioned how uncomfortable I was and how he had shifted. I hadn't been sleeping well anyway, the night before even more so, and I was beyond exhausted. As she checked his position, it became increasingly clear from his heartbeat, her palpating, and from where I was now feeling movement that he had flipped breech. I don’t think it hit me when she first said it. I didn't have the emotional or mental energy to grasp it and it felt much like a dream. This would somehow figure itself out…and besides, maybe we were just making a mistake and he was totally fine. I left with an appointment first thing next morning with a Webster chiropractor, some discussion of getting an ultrasound to verify his position, a plan to work that night with exercises to help flip him back, and the brief mention of a cesarean section.

My friend Lori (also a doula and my midwife’s assistant) came over that evening and we did a round of exercises and positions to try to help turn him back head down. Hanging upside down from the couch, laying on the dining room table, all sorts of floor exercises. I didn’t feel much. Brian mentioned as I laid on the dining room table and was questioning everything and especially wondering why a previously engaged and head down baby would turn so last minute that maybe there was a good reason he had turned. Just maybe he had to unwrap himself from a funny cord or for some unknown reason he had to be in this position to get out. I wasn’t as positive but it did help a bit to think of things this way and trust in the process.

I felt a lot of pain that night and barely slept. I was having prodromal contractions but it wasn’t normal labor, more like my body trying to move him into correct position. I tried doing more positioning and I listened to the Hypnobabies “Turn Your Breech Baby” soundtrack. I finally slept for a few hours around dawn and woke up feeling more normal. In fact, it almost felt like he was in a better position! I was slightly hopeful that even though I hadn’t felt a big turn, that maybe by the grace of God, he had turned on his own. I waddled on downstairs around 6:30 feeling a growing sense of hope that things were fine and he’d be born that day. I went to the bathroom and had some bloody show. My hopes surged that the baby was now back in place, that it had all just been a small bump in the road, and I would be birthing him soon.

I called my midwife to let her know what was going on and wondering if I should still go to the chiropractor appointment that was scheduled in an hour. She said she would stop by to check what was going on. She arrived to our house soon after and to my disappointment my hopes were unfounded. He was still breech. She performed a vaginal check and didn’t feel any dilation. That was really hard to hear but at this point, things all just felt so surreal and I almost felt like I was on auto pilot.

Brian decided that he would take off from work because of the uncertainty of what was going on and we headed out to the appointment. On the way there we prayed a Rosary. The appointment was with a Webster chiropractor but I was surprised and a bit disappointed that she didn’t do anything different than she did at normal appointments. Not sure what I was expecting but was hoping she’d have some fancy moves to help baby flip. Fifteen minutes or so and it was over and we left to go back home to a sort of limbo mode.

I can’t say even now what my state of mind was during all this and for the majority of this day. It was part surreal, part exhaustion, part robot-mode. Brian took care of the boys while I spent hours alternately resting and trying to get the baby to turn. As the boys played and laid mulch with Brian, I did more of the positioning exercises, took a bath (while contorting myself into all sorts of strange positions), listened again to the Hypnobabies audio, prayed, rocked on the birth ball, put ice and peppermint high on my belly to try to motivate him to turn, and even manually tried moving him myself (he would only move the tiniest bit but then wouldn’t budge past a certain spot). I made an appointment for the next morning at an acupuncturist. I emailed a couple friends asking for prayers. My appetite was nonexistent and I barely ate. In the early afternoon I realized that no matter what happened, I probably wouldn’t have the chance to do some of the birth things that I had planned. If baby did turn, I felt it was going to be fast and furious. If he didn’t, I knew she would recommend the hospital. It was just a matter of when. So I decided to take out a puzzle I had made and did it while sitting on the birth ball or doing my different positions. I listened to Marian Grace, the music I wanted to have with me during birth. I began to pray for all the intentions on my list. The day was so emotional and utterly draining. I left a message that afternoon for my midwife that nothing had changed.

The Birth

A short while later, at 6:13 p.m. to be exact, my midwife called and said she wanted to come over to talk about options. My stomach sank and I could tell from the sound of her voice that she was going to recommend we go to the hospital. A vaginal delivery is certainly possible for a frank (bottom first) or footling (feet first) breech. In fact, in Canada, they now recommend a vaginal birth over cesarean and are requiring that obstetricians be once again trained in safe and healthy breech birth as preferred to an automatic surgery. Unfortunately here in the United States, most providers are not trained at all to handle a breech vaginal birth and the skill has been mostly lost, making cesarean birth the default option. How I wish I had known more about breech. How I wish I had more confidence that my body and baby knew what to do. It's hard to think about now, honestly. I really wish I could go back and make different decisions than I did.

Several minutes after getting off the phone with her, I suddenly began to shake and felt extremely cold, a trembling shake that you can’t stop. At first I thought it was my nerves knowing that it was almost inevitable that we’d be going to the hospital soon. That sometimes happens to me when I get nervous. But then a contraction hit…a crazy hard stuff-is-getting-real one, the kind that drop you to the floor. And I knew instantly that it wasn’t nerves at all but transition. This baby was coming and very soon.

I had two or three more of those crazy contractions before she got there and when she did I was having another on the toilet. You know things are getting real when you no longer care and invite someone right in to the bathroom as you’re sitting there! One look at me and she could tell what was happening. As she sat on the bathroom floor, she checked his heartbeat (it was perfect) and asked which hospital I preferred. I don't remember if she gave the option of just staying home. I wish she had, even if it wasn't what she would have recommended. I wish I had had the knowledge and confidence to just stay home.

I told her which hospital I would rather go to and asked if Lori could come. She called Lori who then called our friend who is an obstetrician. While she wasn’t available to come in, she did say she would phone Dr. P., the head of obstetrics at the hospital, part of the same practice, and a family acquaintance and ask if he would come in. He agreed. She told Lori that they could try an external version (the manual turning of the baby) and if it worked, that I could then go home to have the baby. I don’t think she realized how close I was…if baby did turn, there was NO way I was going to be able to go anywhere and he'd be coming quickly but I still appreciated that consideration.

Lori headed over to meet us and Brian called my mom to come over to watch the boys. In the meantime, I somewhat randomly wandered around the house trying to figure out just what the heck I was supposed to bring to the hospital, still in that surreal state I'd been in all day. Brian grabbed some extra clothes while I made sure we had phones, my crucifix, a few of my prayer cards, the camera, and I had brushed my teeth. I can’t even remember what other random things I threw in that bag. I said goodbye to the boys and that was one of the hardest parts of the whole day. I knew how much they wanted to be at the birth and now it wasn’t going to happen while I also made sure they weren’t scared (they weren’t). They said they would pray. Lori and my mom got there around the same time a few minutes later. I don’t remember much from those few minutes except Lori saying, “right now, every step you make has to be towards the car.” I remember as we walked outside getting the reminder that if my water did break, I needed to get on my hands and knees with my head down and bottom as high in the air as possible to avoid a possible cord prolapse, a risk with a truly footling breech baby.

I want to stop here and say that at this point it was never confirmed exactly how baby was lying at the time of birth. Because he ended up coming out feet first, I was told he was footling breech but I've since learned that a true full term footling is almost unheard of with a full term baby (think of a baby standing up with feet at your cervix, there just isn't room). What is much more common is a frank breech baby with a foot presenting. This means bottom low near the cervix but baby's knees are bent so feet are coming first. A footling breech leaves room for a possible cord coming out first which can be dangerous, a frank breech does not.

Regardless, at the time I was told and we were acting like this was a footling breech situation. I think that’s when the potential seriousness of the situation hit me. This birth was happening and it was happening very differently than it ever had before. We decided to take Brian’s truck since I could have the whole backseat and the van is filled with car seats. He threw a blanket down, Lori got in the backseat with me, my midwife followed us in her car, and we headed out. I think I had a contraction on the way and then about half way there another one hit, and then I felt the pop. My water broke.

At that moment, the amount of peace that flooded me was palpable. At what could have been a scary moment, I just felt peace that no matter how things played out, it was as it was supposed to be. I wasn’t afraid and I felt completely present to the moment, differently and with more clarity than I had felt in the last few days. I told Lori and right away I got on my hands and knees on the back seat of the truck, head laying on the seat, as she helped me out of shoes and pants and checked for a cord. None. She called my midwife who was right behind us and gave the status and who then called ahead to the hospital so they could have a stretcher ready at the entrance. Through all of this, Brian drove fast but didn’t at all panic.

We pulled up to the hospital doors a few minutes later and there was a stretcher and a few people waiting. Khristeena came to the truck and checked me to again make sure there was no cord (still none) and said she could feel a foot. She checked his heartbeat and again, it was perfect. He was healthy and constant during the whole birth. I was told I needed to back out of the truck on hands and knees and climb onto the stretcher which was quite…amusing? Fluid leaking, people watching…I climbed onto the stretcher and looked up at all the faces (while still on my knees with head low) and said hello to everyone. They thankfully covered me completely with a sheet while wheeling me down the halls. I remember tracing and following the path to labor and delivery, a path I had walked myself many times before for doula clients, while I kept my head down and peeked at the rolling wheels of the stretcher. I heard my midwife giving all the stats and information that they needed. When we got near the operating room, I looked up to see them holding Brian back which panicked me for a moment and I asked if he was coming in. The nurse reassured me that he was, he just needed to get the surgical gear on. My midwife also was able to come right into the room with me as well which was such a huge blessing. I wish Lori could have come in, too.

A lot of things began to happen at this point in the space of a few minutes. I remember an I.V. going in and asking what was in it. I remember the resident in the room checking me (I wish he hadn’t.) I remember asking if I had to get antibiotics. I think people thought I was in denial about what was going on or was even being stubborn or idealistic or something with some of my comments and questions, but I was completely aware and at peace with what was happening, enough to be able to not be freaking out and to ask what was happening and why they had to do certain things. I remember someone telling me my scapular was beautiful and asking me where I got it. I remember them saying they were giving me terbutaline to stop the contractions. I remember Brian pressing a rosary into my hand. I remember my very first ever catheter going in (OUCH). I remember thinking about all the intentions I had been given for this birth. I remember them telling me I had to flip over and get on the operating table and me laughing. (I still can’t get over how they call that thing a table! It’s like two inches wide.) Somehow I managed to flip over and do it despite me thinking they were obviously joking. I remember the anesthesiologist asking me questions about when I had eaten. I remember saying I did not want to have my arms strapped down (that freaks me out). I remember my midwife walking me through what they were going to do. I remember how ridiculously cold the room was. I remember looking up while on my back and seeing a whole slew of people staring at me. (Weird.) I remember the obstetrician on call getting in. Dr. S...I didn’t recognize her.

My midwife told me later that when Dr. S. came in she asked if I knew I was getting a cesarean and she replied that I did. The doctor said she was going to do another check to see how dilated I was. She did and then, I think to everyone’s shock, she pulled out a foot. Then she reached in and pulled out another. Suddenly, I was being told to push.

I don’t think I’ve ever pushed as hard in my life. No contractions, no urge, flat on my back. Exactly how you aren’t supposed to push a baby out and pretty much the hardest way to do it. Nurses were pushing my knees back by my face and I pushed. I felt a bottom come out and with the next push the shoulders and arms. With my other babies, once the head was out, the rest sort of slipped out…this time I was going easiest to hardest. But I pushed with everything in me and I did it, his head was born! He (another he!) was born! I remember my midwife saying his apgars were 9, 9 (perfect) and her telling them to hand him right to me. And they did, thank God. He was brought right up to me and I took him while doing the post-labor uncontrollable shaking and overhearing the neonatologist someone had called in berating her for not giving him the baby. She was totally respectful and professional but completely assertive. The baby was fine and there was no need for him to intervene in any way so he stayed with me. There was a feeling of awe in the room. Most all the doctors and nurses in that room had never seen a breech vaginal birth.

We arrived to the hospital at 7:56. He was born at 8:08. All of this happened within a crazy whirlwind of twelve minutes. I don't really know how to count actual labor. I feel like it only makes sense to count when those hard contractions hit so that would be about an hour and forty minutes or so? (I wonder how fast it would have been had he been head down...)

One of the only pictures in the O.R. So many wires!

Dr. P. came in shortly after he was born and was surprised at the outcome. Dr. S. left and I didn’t get to see her again, though I did later write her a letter thanking her for the decision she made to spare me surgery. We waited a little bit for the placenta to come out and the whole time the cord was left intact to finish giving our little boy his blood. I was still shaking and could barely push out that placenta but I did and they thankfully saved it. They finally cut the cord leaving it ridiculously long since he was still on me and the cord and blankets and sheets were all tangled up all over me and rather than disturb us, they cut it down low.

Dr. P. checked and not surprisingly, I had a second degree tear. Before he could fix that, he said he wanted to check my cervix for tearing since I wasn’t completely dilated when he came out. Out of all the parts of the birth, this was the part that still leaves me feeling a bit of trauma. It was horrifically painful and I couldn’t help but scream. I just remember locking eyes with Brian and trying to “blow” like they said and literally feeling like the pain could kill me. I've actually had moments in the middle of the night panicking thinking about that exam. I so wish I had had it in me or been encouraged to say no and decline. The stitching up of the exterior tear was also rough. I wish in the hospital they didn't rush the repairs like they do. I'm grateful that at least I got to hold my little one through all of it.

Dr. P. thought I was bleeding too much and recommended a Pitocin drip to which I agreed. Again, looking back wish I had felt more present and in control to decline or at least look for myself. It wasn’t worrisome, but he said if I had that for a few hours and the bleeding was controlled then I’d be able to leave the next morning as soon as the pediatrician gave clearance. I didn’t have much energy or desire to argue and felt somewhat obligated since he had made the trip in to help (that is not okay and I shouldn't have felt that way but I did).

Who needs fancy photographers when you can get swollen faced gems like this all on your own?

We were brought to a normal birth room and finally it was just us again – Brian, my midwife, Lori, me, and our new little one. I think my midwife's first words were a stunned, “Mary! You just had a footling breech vaginal birth!” It was all still sinking in and it felt amazing to finally be in a quiet room and to have him here, to know what that "different" feeling had been all about, and to be at peace. He wasn’t wanting to nurse until then and I got him latched on and he nursed off and on for most of the night. The nursery nurse came in and weighed him and measured him. Seven pounds one ounce, though I'm absolutely certain that with the crazy long cord and the bracelets and monitors and stuff already on him, that his true weight was six pounds 15 ounces just like three of his older brothers. Twenty inches long. He got the vitamin K shot (required in NY and this ridiculous hospital literally gets a court order if you try to decline). The nurse was very kind and “missed” his eyes with the also mandated eye ointment and I rubbed the tiny little bit off his skin right away anyway.

Caught in the midst of a postpartum contraction but check out the crazy long cord.

My midwife and Lori made me eat a very underwhelming sandwich from the hospital Tim Horton's and we chatted a little bit about how everything happened. We made a few phone calls and let family in on the news of the newest little man. They left soon after and we were brought up to the maternity floor for the night. While the hospital is not my ideal place after having a baby and there is SO much I would change about how they do things, I have to say that everyone at this point was incredibly respectful and helpful. There were lots of the routine interruptions but the nurses I had were friendly and kind and the overnight nurse was even a woman I knew from birthy circles who had had two home births herself!

In the morning, we waited two hours on the phone to order breakfast and still didn’t get any (seriously. NOT OKAY.) but the pediatrician did come in by ten or so and did a quick check of the baby. Once I told him that my midwife would be doing the PKU and heart check in the next few days he gave us clearance to leave.

Dr. P. came in a few hours later for the final check and we chatted for a little bit. He let us know that had he been there when we arrived, he wouldn’t have done what Dr. S. did. Apparently, she is the only doctor old enough on their entire staff to have been trained in breech birth and with the experience to feel more confident in it. I have no doubt that God’s hand was in that. From what I've been able to gather, when she went to check me she was assessing dilation and determining whether or not she thought I could get the baby out. My midwife had also told her in the room that I had four previous full term vaginal births so that also played into her quick decision to go for the vaginal birth. I’m so thankful that she happened to be there at exactly the moment that I needed because that split second assessment and decision was the difference between a surgical birth (with the risks and recovery of such) and not.

There's a lot of complicated feelings still around this birth. Gratitude that she was there and how it ended up happening but also a lot of regret, trauma, and frustration that I didn't know more, that I wasn't confident enough to just stay home, and wondering what it could have been like had I done that.

His Name We left the hospital about 2 p.m. after finally making the agonizing decision of his name. We were literally filling in the birth certificate paperwork with the final decision as the man was waiting with the wheelchair to bring me down. Benedict was never even remotely on the radar for a boy name this time. When I was holding him in recovery, though, the name Ben popped into my head and seemed just…right. Raphael has been a patron of our marriage and family for some years now and it’s been a name that was always in the back of my mind. Together they mean Blessed Healing of God, which seems appropriate in so many ways for our family this past year. I know there are people who thought it a bit weird (they got over it) but I feel so much peace that this is his name. The boy name I had been rooting for all pregnancy was Augustine, though Francis (Frankie) also had some discussion. A girl would have been Brigid or Therese, with Mary or Marie/Maria as a possible middle name. After he was finally named, we headed home to my relief and to the welcome of four very thrilled and excited older brothers. This boy is pretty blessed to have so much love.

The Agnus Dei

I can’t end this birth story without mentioning a gift someone had given me that week which I feel strongly played a part in Ben’s birth. A few months before I was due, I was chatting with a fellow homeschooling, home birthing friend at our learning center. I was telling her about all the inexplicable fear that I had surrounding this birth. She is one of the most sincere, generous, kindest women in the world and she stated that I had to have an Agnus Dei and that she would get one for me. I had no idea what that was but she explained that it’s a long forgotten sacramental of the Church. It’s a piece of wax from the Easter Candle in the Vatican and is blessed by the pope and imprinted with a stamp of the Lamb of God symbol. (You can read more about it here.) One of the uses is for protection and blessing during childbirth and our local cloistered Carmelite nuns had a supply. As my due date approached, I thought maybe I wouldn’t get it in time or that it had been forgotten. I saw her two weeks before and she remembered and said that it had been ordered and “don’t worry, you’re not going to have the baby before we get it to you.” The next Tuesday evening (just a few short hours after I think he flipped but didn’t know it yet) her husband made a special trip out to drop it off to my house. And that’s when everything sort of started. I wore that Agnus Dei around my neck from that evening until a few weeks after the birth. I can’t explain it but I truly feel like the grace given through that little object (through God's power, of course) made a difference in the outcome of this birth.

I’m so so grateful for the gift of our Benedict Raphael. He is beautiful, looks just like his brothers did as newborns, and is so loved by everyone in our home. Out of all my babies he had the sweetest and most sensitive temperament. We sometimes joke that it made sense he wanted to come out feet first, tiptoeing into the world at his own pace, rather than diving in head first, such is his style. His life and even his crazy birth are a gift to our family and we feel so very very blessed to have been given this precious boy.

There are few more powerful seasons and moments in a woman's life than those of pregnancy and birth. Cooperating with the creative power of God, a woman's body grows and brings a brand new, unrepeatable, eternal precious son or daughter of God into the world. It's a beautiful time to ask for the intercession of the saints for a healthy, happy, and holy pregnancy and birth. I've said it before and I'll say it again: God cares about our pregnancies and He cares about our births. We needn't hesitate to ask that they be profoundly blessed and we can confidently ask for the intercession of our brothers and sisters in heaven, that cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews, for extra grace during these times.

That cloud of witnesses are saints in heaven that surround us, see us, and cheer us on in the earthly race mentioned just afterwards. For those of us whose earthly race includes pregnancy and birth, then they absolutely want to cheer us on and pray for us during those times as well, perhaps especially so since Scripture also mentions those times for mothers as being part of our salvation (1 Timothy 2:15).

There are saints who because of the work in their earthly lives or after have a special significance to pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. We believe that those in heaven are fully alive, fully perfected, and fully in Christ. That means they love and care for others even *more* than they did on earth. They see and can intercede even *more* than they did on earth.

The following are some of the powerhouse patrons of pregnancy and birth:

Our Lady of Childbirth

I've written about her more here but Mary is the quintessential saint and she is the quintessential mother. As our mother she longs to help us her daughters as we enter into our own motherhood. Under the title of Our Lady of Childbirth (also under the titles Madonna del Parto, Virgin of Childbirth, or Our Lady of a Happy Delivery), she is known to intercede for those who struggle with infertility and to help with healthy pregnancies and holy and happy births. This particular feast day of Mary is usually celebrated October 11 or in some places, the second Sunday of October.

Saint Anne

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by DaVinci

Saint Anne, the mother of Mary, is often called on for healing infertility and she is also considered a patroness of pregnancy and women in labor. She was pregnant with Mary in old age. Unlike Our Lady, she had a normal conception, labor, and childbirth. Since Mary is our heavenly mother, in some ways we could consider Saint Anne our heavenly grandmother. Her feast day is July 26.

Saint Elizabeth

Visitation by Raphael

Saint Elizabeth, cousin of Our Lady, is also considered a patroness of infertility and pregnancy due to her miraculous pregnancy with Saint John the Baptist and her role in the Visitation when the unborn John leapt in her womb in the presence of Mary and Jesus. Perhaps she and Anne can also be especially sympathetic and helpful to those pregnant in "older" age and who get the esteem of entering a "geriatric pregnancy." Her feast day is November 5.

Saint Catherine of Sweden

Sankta Katarina by SalvenSaint

Catherine of Sweden is considered a patroness for pregnancy and against miscarriage. According to stories about her life, she was known to give counsel and prayer to mothers who had experienced miscarriage or who had complications with their pregnancies. Her feast day is March 24.

Saint Gerard

Saint Gerard is one of the most well known patrons of pregnancy and childbirth. There are several stories of him having miracles granted for women he knew that were pregnant or during birth during his life. Countless mothers attribute his intercession for a healthy pregnancy and birth, especially after infertility and miscarriage. His feast day is October 16.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is called upon often for unborn children, a healthy pregnancy, and at the time of birth. When Our Lady appeared to Saint Juan Diego she wore the traditional Aztec black belt of pregnancy, signifying that she is bearing the baby Jesus within her. This apparition was also responsible for helping end the practice of infant sacrifice present in the Aztec culture. She would be an especially good patron for babies who are at risk in the womb or those whose mothers have been counseled or tempted to abort. Her feast day is December 12.

Saints Louis and Zelie Martin

The newly canonized Saints Louis and Zelie Martin are now among those considered patrons of pregnancy and birth. This is because out of their nine babies only five daughters survived to adulthood, three of the deaths occurring during infancy. Despite her fragile health and the tragic loss of those children, the couple remained open to life. All five of their daughters entered religious life. Their daughter Saint Therese is now a doctor of the Church and the others are being considered for canonization. Their feast day is July 12.

Saint Gianna Molla

Saint Gianna Molla was an Italian physician from the 20th century known for refusing the recommended abortion or hysterectomy to treat a uterine fibroma during her fourth pregnancy. She opted to simply remove the tumor in order to save the life of her child. She did not die of the fibroma found and removed from her uterus in the first trimester but actually died a week after birth due to complications from her cesarean surgery. Her heroic virtue was in part due to her willingness to spare her daughter's life during that first surgery rather than have a hysterectomy as the doctors advised (and which, morally speaking, some could view as permissible under the principle of double effect). This is one reason she is often called upon for difficult pregnancies and as an intercessor for childbirth. Her feast day is April 28.

Saint Brigid of Ireland

Saint Brigid by Tuohy

Saint Brigid of Kildare is, among many things, patroness of midwives and newborns. While much of her true life story is not verified, she is often called on for intercession during pregnancy, birth, and for babies because of this. I've written on her here and I've found her to be a powerful heavenly intercessor. Her feast day is February 1.

Saint Margaret of Antioch

Saint Margaret and the Dragon by Raphael

Saint Margaret of Antioch's story of being swallowed by Satan disguised as a dragon and spit up again prompted her to be named as a patroness of childbirth. (Yes, Catholics are weird. We know.) While the historical details are unclear, she was a virgin martyr from the fourth century and she is still considered a patroness of pregnant women, women in labor, childbirth, and nursing mothers. Her feast day is July 20.

Saint Raymond Nonnatus

Saint Raymond Nonnatus Crowned by Christ by Diego Gonzalez de la Vega

Saint Raymond Nonnatus (yes, from Call the Midwife fame) was a 13th century Spanish saint who was born by emergency cesarean section. Nonnatus was actually not his real name but a nickname given to him for that reason (meaning "not born"...clearly before an enlightened view of necessary cesareans ;) Because of the nature of his birth, he is considered patron of pregnancy, childbirth, midwives, obstetricians, and babies. He'd be a great patron especially for those women who know they will need to plan a cesarean birth. His feast day is August 31.

Our Miscarried Babies

By far one of the most powerful intercessors for a pregnant or laboring mother, in my humble opinion, are any children a woman may have previously lost to miscarriage or at any point of life. While we do not officially canonize them, the Church says we can "entrust them to the mercy of God" and we know that He is infinitely merciful. They can serve as the family's own personal and private patron saint and called upon for a healthy, happy, and holy pregnancy and birth for their younger sibling. How powerful those prayers must be! Giving names to those babies lost before birth and asking directly for their intercession during a future pregnancy and birth is a beautiful way to recognize their continued place in our families and allow them a role to play within them.

Guardian Angels

Okay, technically not saints but who better to ask for protection and help for both mother and baby than their guardian angels? According to Scripture and the teaching of the Church, every human being is assigned a specific angel from God to help protect them physically and spiritually. (FYI, you are never to ask for or assign your guardian angel a name!) From the moment of conception, we have an angel with us who loves us and wants to intercede for us. And that means from the moment of conception, every mother has two angels protecting her. Those angels can and want to pray for us throughout pregnancy and during birth.

Honorable Mention

I'm going to go ahead and claim Saint John Paul the Great who wrote and spoke so much about the beauty of the female body and motherhood as another perfect patron for pregnancy and birth. Also of note is Venerable Fulton Sheen who greatly venerated physical motherhood both in his writings and speech. Saint Anthony I have seen mentioned as a saint for infertility and pregnancy, however, I was unable to find the reason behind it. Invoking Eve, whose feast we celebrate on December 24 and who we believe was brought to heaven by Jesus on Holy Saturday, would also be a beautiful witness to the redemption of the pains of childbirth through the Incarnation and Passion.


The Made for This Birth Album also has an entire beautiful *25* MINUTE track containing a litany to mothers, almost FOUR HUNDRED canonized mothers from history who themselves gave birth. This stunning prayer can surround you in your pregnancy and even fill the room (or your earbuds!) during your birth.

It also has an entire track of quotes from various saints that can encourage, inspire, and strengthen you for the work of your pregnancy and birth.

Click HERE for more info!

The saints know us, love us, and can be a gift to us in pregnancy and birth, this important work of our vocation and salvation. Don’t waste this beautiful powerful gift and spiritual fellowship God offers for your pregnancy and birth.

For even more ways to experience pregnancy and birth through the lens and beauty of the Catholic Faith, I have just the book for that ;)

May the prayers of these saints - and all the saints - intercede for all pregnant and birthing mothers.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."

Hebrews 12:1-2

I think it's important to begin by saying that I grew up in a very typical American household; my family ate a standard American diet and we didn't practice any kind of alternative medicine. I never heard the word “homebirth” growing up, and even if I had, I would have never considered it as something desirable. In my mind, babies were born in hospitals, and the presence of pain- numbing drugs were necessary for this process to happen. By the time I got married and became pregnant with my first child, my mind had changed on a few things. My hope was to have a natural, intervention free birth. My husband had come from a similar background as me, and the idea of a birthing center made him very uncomfortable, so we decided that the hospital would be the place where we would have this baby. I wanted to work with a midwife and do a birthing center birth, but at the time I figured that I would get one birth under my belt before going down that route.

I experienced what I imagine most women undergo when it comes to prenatal care in this country. I worked with a whole team of OBs, getting maybe 5 or 10 minute appointments with people who didn’t know a thing about me. It was very impersonal, and I usually left the appointments feeling a lack of confidence in myself and in my ability to give birth. When I mentioned that I wanted to do an unmedicated birth, I got the discouraging response of; “Sure, we can try that. But just know that most women end up getting an epidural.” By the time I reached 40 weeks, there was already talk of induction, despite me being perfectly healthy and having signs of labor beginning on its own. Induction was something I knew I wanted to avoid, but eventually I was convinced that it was the right thing to do.

At 41 weeks we went in for a scheduled induction. I knew that it was medically unnecessary, but at the time I didn't have the confidence to fight my case. The doctor broke my water, and very soon contractions were coming heavy and hard. After hours of agonizing contractions that weren't progressing my labor, I finally broke down and asked for an epidural. Several hours later my son was born, coming very close to an emergency C-section and having to be vacuum extracted. He was limp and not breathing on his own. His cord was immediately cut, and he was whisked away to the NICU. I was left in that room feeling utterly defeated, spent, and emotionally numb. During our stay in the hospital I half-heartedly tried to nurse my son, but did not feel bonded to him, and all I really wanted to do was to rest and let other people take care of him. I was very sore and tired for some time, but was unable to get much rest in the hospital. Because of our time apart, nursing was very difficult, and I had to undergo weeks of pumping and bottle-feeding. Miraculously, my son started nursing at 3 weeks old, and I finally began to feel some confidence in myself as a mother. I knew that when we got pregnant again I wanted to do things differently.

When we became pregnant with our second child, I made an appointment with a local birthing center and began my prenatal care. While the care was much more personal, I realized that I wanted to hire an independent midwife who did not have to follow protocols and guidelines of a more mainstream birth center. I knew that if I was going to have the unmedicated birth that I wanted, I would have to be in a place where I was completely comfortable. So after a little convincing, I managed to get my husband on board, and we began preparing to have this baby at home.

At 30 weeks I transferred into the care of Christine at Redemption Midwifery. After the first appointment with Christine, which was in my own home, I knew that I had made the right choice. She made it very clear that while the baby's safety came first, she believed that parents shouldn’t be pressured by their providers, and needed to make informed decisions. We ultimately had the last say in all choices regarding this birth. I also hired a lovely doula named Maggie Grevas (Visitation Birth Doula). I knew that this experience would be very different from my last one, and I wanted to do everything I could to prepare myself for whatever may happen.

So with confidence in my birth team, with new knowledge gained from reading and from my past experience, and by listening to many, many positive birth stories (shout-out to the Happy Homebirth Podcast!), I finally felt ready to take on the hard work of labor. Ultimately, I knew that even if my strengths failed me, the Lord would not. The most important thing I did to prepare for this birth was to decide to surrender the birth to Jesus, and to put it all in his hands. Leading up to the birth, I did the Surrender Novena and it gave me immense peace.

Finally, at 41 + 1, after a wonderful day spent with family, my water broke. My husband and I quickly jumped into action, got the birth pool blown up, and double-made the bed. I called Christine and Maggie and they both reminded me to try to get some rest. I didn't. I labored through the night, laying down as much as I could. Contractions slowly picked up, and by 7 a.m. they were coming a few minutes apart and were lasting about a minute. My sister-in-law took our son to my parents' house, and the birth team arrived shortly afterwards. As these things often go, my labor basically stopped once everyone got there. Contractions spaced out to about 15 minutes apart, and it stayed that way for the next 4 or 5 hours. Before noon, my Midwife and I had a conversation and we decided that since I had tested GBS positive, and my water had been broken for about 12 hours, it would be wise to try to get things started again. I confessed to her that I was holding back mentally, and that I really just needed to focus and allow my body to do what it was made to do. At this point I got in the shower, clutched my rosary, and totally gave the birth over to the Lord. Afterwards we discussed some options, and I begrudgingly decided to take castor oil as a way to get contractions going again. I knew that I needed to go “all in” and do whatever it took to get the baby to come.

Maggie and I did a few maneuvers in the next hour to try to get the baby in an optimal position, and then the castor oil kicked in and brought with it all of the lovely symptoms that castor oil brings. It did do the trick though, and my contractions started coming back more regularly. At 3 p.m., Christine told me that we needed to do the second dose of castor oil (much to my dismay). I choked it down, and within an hour my contractions were coming about 4 minutes apart and were getting much stronger. At exactly the right moment, Christine suggested that we fill up the birth pool, and as soon as we did this I was very ready to get into it. The relief was immediate, and there was about an hour where I was able to fully relax into the contractions as I floated in the water. It was actually somewhat enjoyable, and there were times where I felt like I could fall asleep.

After that initial hour things really picked up, and I knew at that point we were close to having a baby. All speaking ceased, and for the next hour or so I did my best to surrender to the surges as my birth team kept me hydrated. Contractions were probably coming every 1 to 2 minutes and they were very strong, to the point where I started to think that I couldn’t endure much longer. However, God draws near to those who are suffering, and through His grace I was able to keep a positive mindset and pray through the powerful surges.

When it did come time to push, I didn't need to be coached because my body told me exactly what I needed to do. I changed positions multiple times and finally found one that felt right. Pushing was exhausting. It took every ounce of strength that I had. Yet being able to move as I needed to made me feel much more in control. When I finally felt the head coming, Christine gave me some coaching on how to breathe so that the baby wouldn't come out too fast. After about a total of 30 minutes of pushing, surrounded only by trusted companions and in the peace of my own home, I finally reached that glorious moment where the baby’s head came out, with the body following in the next contraction.

I cannot describe the relief and euphoria of this moment; all pain and discomfort ceased immediately, and I had the joy of watching my baby, eyes fully open, come up through the water and into my arms. She calmly looked around as I held her, and we did a little bit of stimulation as well as a few breaths. This whole process was very calm, and I didn't feel nervous for a second. (Had we been in the hospital, there's a good chance that her cord would have been immediately cut, and she would have been brought over to the infant station to be assessed and resuscitated.)

Once we were sure that the baby was breathing on her own, we decided it would be best to get over to the bed to deliver the placenta. Because it wasn't coming on its own after 30 minutes, Christine thought it was best that, supported by my team, I squat in order to deliver it. I really wasn't in any mood to get up, but I knew that we needed to get the placenta out. So supported by my husband, I stood next to the bed and delivered the placenta in less than a minute. That was the end of all the drama!

My husband got some skin to skin time with our new baby while I showered. Afterward we lounged in bed, just marveling at our new daughter, as the team brought us food and cleaned up the room. Once the midwife and her assistant did all of the necessary newborn tests and assessments, they went on their way. My recovery was so much better than the first time; I didn't tear, and other than some expected soreness, I really wasn't all that uncomfortable in the days following. I didn't need to take anything stronger than arnica and Afterease. Those few hours of intense discomfort were so worth it for such a beautiful outcome. I can't recommend home birth highly enough.

What struck me most of all about this whole experience is that there was never a moment during my long labor that I felt doubt in my birth team or in myself. I certainly felt some anxiety about the idea of pushing a baby out, but I knew that the Lord was with me and that I would be able to do it in the end. I have never felt such resolve to do something so difficult in my life.

For any women looking for advice about birth; first, know that you were truly made to do this. No matter what type of birth you desire, with knowledge of your options and with the right team, you will be able to do it no matter how difficult it is. If you decide to have your baby in a hospital, know that you need to take responsibility for the birth and make the final decisions for yourself and your baby. Don't let fear or anxiety (or other people!) make your decisions for you. Place your trust in the Lord, and know that He will not allow anything to happen to you without His willing it. And lastly, consider giving home birth a try! You’ll be blown away by how beautifully your body can birth when it is left undisturbed!

Mary is a homemaker and fitness enthusiast who lives with her husband, two children, and dog in the lovely state of Virginia. You can find her on Instagram, where she posts about prenatal and postpartum fitness, as well as general life as a Catholic homemaker, wife, and mother. She highly recommends checking out @visitationbirthdoula on Instagram, as well as

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