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The Spirit as Advocate and Guide: Aurora's Surprise Breech Birth at Home

I'll save you the suspense and deliver the punchline now - fourth baby, discovered breech after my water had already broken, born at home. If I hadn't followed the Spirit's promptings during my pregnancy, I would have been guaranteed a cesarean.


But let me begin this fourth birth story by going back a bit to my others. We had initially gone to see my mother's OB for care - my youngest brother is nearly 18 years younger than me so he was still in practice - and it wasn't until a friend gifted me with The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth by Genevieve Howland that I thought about doing anything other than a hospital birth. But once I did start reading, something inside of me leapt up, something that cried in a thousand tongues, I want to do this God's way! I liked Howland's guide because it didn't come across as judgmental, just passionate.


I'm not a "crunchy mama," and hospitals are a mixed bag for me. Some of my happiest childhood memories are from accompanying my grandmother to work throughout the first decade of my life. She was a pharmacist at Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for over 30 years, and I loved learning about everything in her lab, as well as the privilege of witnessing her bringing Our Lord in Holy Communion to the patients. But there were also many painful moments I experienced in hospitals, like holding my only sister down for blood draws. There's no doubt that we owed her young life to the help at the Children's Hospital, but her neutropenia required monitoring over an extended period. At some appointments my mother broke down as they wrestled my infant sister to find a vein. I was eleven years her senior, we had the two brothers between us in tow at every appointment, and I could not bear to let my sister be alone when my poor mother had to step away. I HAD to try to be a soothing voice and touch even as my sister screamed and we all wept. Like I said, hospitals are a mixed bag for me. 


At any rate, here I was, driven by a sudden desire to birth somewhere other than a hospital, and this was January of 2018. The baby was due in May. Was it too late? The Holy Spirit - for Who else could have spoken such - made it clear that, if any change in plan was to be made, my husband needed to be fully on board with the decision. At the time, his anxiety was unmedicated and something told me that the birth experience was likely to be incredibly traumatic for all three of us, for I was now learning to consider the child's experience as well, if I pressured him into a birth plan. 


I must have stormed heaven for his heart to be won. I remember sitting on the couch, asking him to please read a few of the passages I'd marked in Howland's book. So much of what we enjoyed during our dating phase were the philosophical and theological discussions stretching two, three, four hours at a time, and I counted heavily now on both his love of logic as a math major, and his heart for God that drove him to the seminary relatively later in life. I remember how agonizing it was, sitting in silence, trying to give him a safe and non-threatening space to process what he was reading. In retrospect, I’m sure that I was failing, and I consider it truly miraculous now that he encouraged me to make whatever phone calls I felt called to make. 


As we strolled towards the coffee shop to meet our potential doula for the first time, armed with a clipboard of questions (which we never really got to), I remember both of us trying to dispel the tacit tension by trying to come up with a discreet under-the-table signal to communicate our yea/nay verdict. While we walked away from that meeting with the location of our birth still up in the air, we were confident that God had led us to the right doula. Fast forward to our first home visit with her, I’ll never forget the moment when my husband pronounced, “I think home birth is our first option.” It was at the end of the hour and I nearly fell out of my chair. 


I perhaps had it easier than most, because I now frequently hear stories of husbands, not to mention extended family, being viciously opposed to home birth and birthing centers. After our first visit with the midwives, my husband commented on how different it was from our appointments with the OB; how, at the OB, we waited for more than an hour to be seen for ten minutes, and with the midwives, we waited ten minutes to be given a full hour of their undivided attention. He recognized the significantly higher quality of care, and was pleased. 


If my mother had any concerns, she hid them completely but I also couldn’t talk much to her about what I was learning. Birth stories scare her a bit, and she selflessly had no wish to infect me with her fear, so she set the boundaries that she needed to in order to support me as best she could. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, openly gushed, and I held on to her enthusiasm like a lifeline in the months to come. She was the oldest of ten children spanning twenty years, all birthed at home. She was thrilled, and I needed her profuse delight to carry me through many frustrating moments with the opposition stemming from my husband’s side of the family - in particular from one of them who is a pediatric nurse and who we attempted to keep in the dark, but she was told by others whom we had dared to trust. It was a hard lesson for us as a young couple in needing to set boundaries to protect our peace as our own family.


But on to that first labor. They told me that your water doesn’t usually break first, that that sort of thing usually only happens in the movies, and that lent to some anxiety on my part. What if I didn’t recognize that I was in labor??? God has His laugh, though, for it was while working through the Miles Circuit that my water did indeed break, and our son was born some sixteen hours later. 


The intervention that had scared me the most to read about was the episiotomy. It was one of my first questions for our midwives, and they assured me that it was not an invervention which they performed. Incredibly, my only tear was cosmetic, in spite of baby’s nuchal arm. They told me I pushed like a pro. I was so exhausted that I was falling asleep and snoring in between contractions. Reflecting in my heart afterwards, I feel that it may have been fear that kept me from pushing too hard too soon, but God in His incredible generosity and mercy took that and used it for my good. 


This is my absolute favorite picture from our first birth: My husband - my normally-averse-to-anything-bloody, faints-at-blood-draws husband - eagerly reaching to help his son complete his arduous journey through the birth canal.





I was still caught up in labor pains, for the nuchal arm had yet to be discovered at this point, but in retrospect, it seems to me perfectly fitting that the first unbridled joy was the father's. I fall in love with my husband all over again every time I look at this picture.


We had expected our doula and two midwives, but there was a fourth member of our birth team whom we had not met previously. She had been brought in simply to chart. It wasn’t until after the birth, when she was sitting patiently with me trying to get out my first postpartum pee (who knew that could be so difficult?!) that I learned what a treasure God had sent in this woman, E. Upon entering our apartment, and noting the overtly Catholic decor, she had immediately begun praying the Rosary and as she sat with me, she spoke to me in soothing tones of the Blessed Mother. I knew then that I would always want this woman with me at future births. 


I wish I could say that we had a blissful babymoon but we quickly discovered that our son had a significant tongue-tie. The nipple damage was so bad that we resorted to feeding him with a syringe for almost three days. It was nerve-wracking for me already, but any gagging on our son’s part triggered my husband’s debilitating anxiety. He would shut down, blind and deaf and unresponsive for hours upon hours, hidden under a mountain of blankets and pillows. When our son’s tie was revised by our midwives, it was like night and day. He latched immediately. I grew to love nursing and our son was none the worse for wear - indeed, within a few months, he was deemed above the 99th percentile for weight. 





But it was not enough to convince others to leave well enough alone; the pediatric nurse on my husband’s side of the family not only grilled us on the safety of home birth (after our son was born and obviously doing excellently), but criticized our parenting choices heavily, shaming me for “imposing” co-sleeping and ecological breastfeeding on my husband, thereby “making his life harder.” At the time, our marriage was struggling too much for us to be able to meet these attacks as a united front; but in later years, my husband did tell me that if she or anyone else ever cornered me like that again, to send them to him, and let him deal with them. At the end of the day, we were a team. 


At this time in particular, however, our little team was under serious spiritual attack. My husband and I physically separated for almost a year - not intending for the separation to be permanent, but with the supposed hope of having the space to separately address some intense personal challenges. During that time, even though our son and I were living with my parents, our second child was conceived. We moved back in together just two months before our second home birth. Unfortunately, the midwives with whom we had birthed our son had parted ways with our doula, who was now working as a midwife. As our relationship with our doula was stronger, we had no thought of doing anything other than staying with her when she announced that she was starting her own practice. 


At the time, I cast her seeming restlessness and distraction up to the stressors of this new undertaking, but the truth was that, while excellent as a doula, as a primary midwife she was difficult for me to work with. With our marriage struggling so heavily, I barely remember anything now of that pregnancy and labor. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I love each other madly - I don’t know how else we would have gotten through all that mess - and with regards to the birth, he was my primary support, affirming and gentle and bursting with joy at welcoming his second child. But because of our marriage struggles which quickly resumed within days of that second birth, I did not give myself the space or the time to process the marked differences in the care provided by our doula-turned-midwife. 


Our first two children are fifteen months apart. The second and third are twenty-seven months apart, and by the time the third was expected, our marriage was firmly on the uphill. I still had not processed the second birth, though, and the exponential improvement in our marriage had not yet reached a point where I felt that I could take the time and space needed to do so. So when it came time to begin our third round of prenatal care, we went back to the same midwife, and I shoved my lack of excitement under the rug. 


There are three moments during that third birth and immediate postpartum that stand out to me as the moments which finally pushed me to undertake the processing that needed to happen. First, while I was in transition, I cried, “I’m scared, I can’t do this,” to which our midwife replied, in a voice which seemed to me to be bored, detached, and utterly lacking in empathy, “Why do you think you can’t do it?” What I heard underneath was, “This is your third birth, you’ll be fine.” Yes, I knew that intellectually, but it was not helpful during transition. That was the first time that it occurred to me that one of the issues with this woman as a primary midwife was that she was not a mother herself; she could not really empathize because she had never been in labor herself. 


The second moment was when I was left alone in the bedroom, my husband with the baby as the birth team was busy measuring and charting her stats, and cleaning up birth tub and apartment. I knew intellectually that they wouldn’t leave me alone if I was okay, but in that moment, I felt so abandoned. I was shaking uncontrollably, my teeth were chattering so hard that my head hurt, and I felt as if I could not get warm, as if the cold reached my bones. Again, I was able to rationalize that everyone in our home was busy with very important work, and truthfully I can say that I did not begrudge anyone being elsewhere doing what they were doing but in that moment, it just hurt. 


But the third moment… Oh. The third moment was when our midwife said that she’d like to see us space our kids by at least three years. My heart stopped. 


At nineteen, I had begun having severe endometriosis, even collapsing from pain, passing out in an ambulance. Because I did not realize the gravity of the situation, I dragged my feet on learning Creighton, and the miserable result of my naive procrastination was that I was not diagnosed until I was twenty-two. My husband and I did not meet until I was twenty-five, and so I spent seven long years wondering if I would even ever be able to conceive. I was the sort of kid who responded from the age of nine with, “I want to be a mom,” when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. The idea of never being able to have biological kids was devastating. I also agonized over the questions, how do you tell a guy that you might not be able to give him kids? And when?! Not first date material, but would he hate you if you waited until you were engaged? Wouldn’t telling him anytime before that seem forward and scare him off? God, how can you put me in this kind of position?!


It was this agony which God then used to convince me that He had chosen my husband for me; for my now-husband knew about my condition before he pursued me, before he was in any position to pursue me, before I had any reason to suppose that he would even look my way in that way. He was at the time a seminarian. When my now-husband pursued me, I clearly heard God speak, gently and with infinite patience, My child, why did you worry? You only needed to trust Me. So we have known that the potential for secondary infertility exists and with every child we have my heart immediately cries to God, will this one be my last? Please, Lord, just one more… But here I was - my husband was at work - being told by my midwife that we needed to intentionally space by at least three years. Why on earth?! 


Her reason was that apparently I had hemorrhaged with all three births. How had I missed this?! I knew I had been given a shot to slow bleeding, but I had no recollection of the word hemorrhage coming up before this moment. I was too numb to say much for the rest of that visit. I tried to hold it in my heart and ponder it there without troubling my husband, but he knew something was wrong, and when he asked what was troubling me, I burst into tears. My clear-headed husband advised me to ask why three years specifically, at our next visit. Her response was far from satisfactory: “Well, you’ll bleed more with every birth, so if you space at least three years, you’ll have less kids.” There was no indication that there was any other potential solution to be explored.


I had had three home births with supposed hemorrhaging and I had not been transferred to the hospital a single time. That suggested to me that perhaps the situation was not dire enough to morally obligate spacing. Don’t get me wrong; after the larger gap between our second and third births, I saw the undeniable value of giving my body at least a year postpartum to heal before having another child. But three years... compounded with the ever-present possibility of secondary infertility and the frank reality of impending menopause… My soul could not accept it so easily so I sought spiritual direction. 


It may be that, in my fear of a definitive verdict, I dragged my feet and sought that direction too late. Our third child was born in November of 2021, and I finally sought spiritual direction in January of 2023 (after receiving terrifyingly, unhelpfully mixed responses from Catholic mothers’ groups online, with very strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum regarding my situation). I was directed by my priest to contact The National Catholic Bioethics Center with the details of my situation… but our fourth child was conceived the following month, before I could bring myself to make the call. 


I knew I couldn’t go back to the same midwife. I dreaded being chided for conceiving again so “soon,” dreaded feeling like a child caught in wrongdoing at prenatal appointments, dreaded feeling uncared for at the actual birth. I had hit on a word to describe what I craved; I wanted someone who would mother me a little, especially in transition. E had been the most mothering person at the three previous births but she was not a licensed midwife. I knew she would understand exactly what I needed, though, so I reached out to her to ask if she had a recommendation for a new midwife - and she did. 


I loved the new midwife she recommended from the outset. She asked point blank why I was considering a new birth team, and when I explained about desiring to be mothered more during transition, not only was it clear that she understood completely, she said she wanted to affirm and honor me for being brave enough to advocate for myself and my needs. 


I had not thought of it that way. Her words were so healing. And I realized I’d been afraid that I was a wimp. I’d been afraid that I was a weakling for wanting a little more compassion and empathy during the birthing journey. I’d been afraid that I was being judgmental and maybe also flippant and fickle for wanting to explore the possibility of a new birth team. I was afraid that I was asking too much from everyone - including God - in desiring a birth experience that felt more safe and peaceful and joyful than these last two births had been. I was afraid that I was being selfish. I already had three home births behind me! How could I possibly want more?


But wasn’t it St. Teresa of Avila who assured us, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him”? I wasn’t asking for anything bad. I wasn’t asking for anything sinful. In my fallen human frailty and weakness, perhaps I was asking for greater proof of His mercy and His Divine Providence. But He was ready to shower me with graces beyond measure. He is always ready to do so for each and every one of us. I just needed to make the leap and surrender to Him more fully. Isn’t that the daily challenge for each of us?


Prenatal appointments with our new birth team were a new level of self-care for me. Sure, they were self-care in a technical way, but they were also self-care for my soul. I felt loved by my new birth team. I felt ministered to. Whatever faith these team members held, I felt that this work was truly an apostolate for them. 


It was a testament to the sound health of our marriage that I was able to provide a safe space for my husband to vulnerably express that he missed our old birth team; and that I was also able to receive at face value his immediate follow-up assurance that what mattered most to him was my comfort. He quipped cheerfully that he would simply resort to sticking with E in the corner. (I did make a point of speaking to her and she assured me that she would take good care of my husband.)





And so the fourth birth came, my first labor where I’d had the headspace to prepare birth affirmations and had the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Litany to Mothers playing - thank you, Made for This Birth, for all of those resources! Baby had been head-down and in a perfect position when checked at an appointment just 48 hours earlier.


With our first three children, we had had a name picked out within 48 hours of learning baby’s gender. This fourth child was our first where we went back and forth on the name for AGES, and also our first where we finally settled on a name that (we thought) wasn’t Saint-based. My husband, whose memory is clearer here, tells me that during early labor, when the Litany to Mothers on the Made For This Birth app was playing, I heard her name. I looked it up immediately; her feast day was in just a couple of weeks. I knew it was God’s way of reminding me that this child was His, that He called her, that He had a glorious purpose for her, and that we were all in His hands. 


I had been having real contractions literally all day. (Fun side note, I had an online class, and the instructor said she had never had a student in labor in class before!) I called the birth team in at around 4:30 p.m. and midnight was fast approaching. I was getting tired and not a little frustrated, and they offered to break my water. I held off for a bit, not wanting to rush baby, but I was afraid of getting worn out. After my water was broken, one of the three student midwives present performed an internal examination, but was unsure of what she was feeling. W followed and that was when we learned that baby was breech.

 

Our midwife was calm, and gentle, and loving, and all of the things that I needed. She said I could still have this baby at home, and at the same time, she needed me to know that we were up against the clock. If baby didn’t come in four hours, she would recommend I transfer to the hospital for safety reasons. She didn’t want me to feel pressured to transfer and she shared with us the new plan going forward if we still wished to try for a home birth. She wanted to have me sleep for as long as baby would let me, and if we got down to the last hour and a half on the clock, she would then wake me for one last-ditch effort to get baby out at home.


I lost track of time then. I thought it was forever, but my husband informs me that he was settling down for a couple of hours of sleep after hearing the plan but then baby decided, within fifteen minutes, that she was finally ready. 


It was incredible. When a head-down baby is crowning, you're sometimes reminded to reach down and feel baby’s hair to encourage you, and I had enjoyed doing so with the three children previous. But hair still doesn’t process as clearly as FEET! The toes! The toes! She had the cutest little toes! I sobbed with joy when I felt those sweet little toes!





Our midwife told me afterwards that it had been a much more hands-on breech birth than most breech births are. Baby had needed literally every trick she had up her sleeve. When baby had been only halfway out, they had needed to physically turn her while in the birth canal. The videos were staggering. 





But the biggest triumph, the greatest joy - if there could be one even greater than birthing a breech baby at home! - was when I saw my husband making rounds and hugging every single member of our new birth team, thanking them profusely, radiating both relief and elation as he did. W commented to me later that she could see how much my husband loved me, and how much he loved our daughter. “I can see why you fell for him,” she smiled.


Both E and W told me separately that, had we been with our old provider, we would have been guaranteed a cesarean. Our previous. midwife simply didn’t have the experience, much less the confidence and indeed, within the same month of our birth, she had transferred two of her breech clients, who were both pressured heavily when they could have, should have, been given a safe space and option for vaginal birth. My heart weeps for those mothers and I write this for them, as much as for myself. 





I apologize for the novel, but I want you to know so badly that it should never be “too late” to advocate for yourself, to advocate for the experience you KNOW God so deeply and lovingly desires for all of us women, His daughters, to have, to be able to enter into this incredible journey of child-carrying and child-bearing for which HE so perfectly and meticulously designed us and for which HE gives all the grace necessary to traverse. Yes, there are legitimate emergency situations in which we should utilize the wonderfully advanced medical resources which He has willed should be available to us in this day and age. But if you are someone reading this post, it is because you know that the system, with regards to how it treats pregnancy and childbirth especially, is heavily broken. It is a system that is too quick to intervene, a system which treats pregnancy as a disease, and childbirth - childbirth at HIS pace, pain experienced only as HE allows for the purpose of our sanctification, a trial which only HE can orchestrate with supernatural merits which we cannot even begin to fathom, an unbridled joy in an incomparable earthly triumph such as only HE can give - as a terror to be avoided at all costs. 


With this, my fourth birth, I didn’t hemorrhage at all. There is no more talk of spacing for the plain reason of having fewer children. Of course we will still be prayerful and prudent, and yes, I will still struggle with every child, wondering about secondary infertility. Of course, there is no guarantee that this fourth child is not our last. But this new birth team - I already miss them. I know that they will be happy to see us again if the opportunity to do so ever presents itself. I know that I can trust them unreservedly. And I know that they have the level of experience needed such that if a home birth is at all possible to safely pursue, it will happen. That knowledge gives me peace.





Aurora hosts The Will to Wife Podcast, and offers marriage support through the Surrendered Catholic Wives and CliftonStrengths for SCW groups. In the occasional spare time afforded by homemaking and homeschooling with the Five In A Row curriculum, she enjoys dancing, writing, and music-making.




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