My son and daughter were born almost exactly 2 years apart. They were caught by the same OB, in the same hospital, even in the same exact delivery room, but my experiences of pregnancy and birth were radically different between the two.
With Peter, I was driven by a desire to do everything the "right" way. I had a lot of anxiety but thought if I researched enough, planned enough, prepared enough, I could have the birth I wanted. I took a Bradley birth class, read, and researched throughout the pregnancy. I was shocked and disappointed when my water broke at 38 weeks and 5 days. Everyone tells you that it won't happen that way, but I truly did have the "movie scene" big gush that was not forewarned by any signs of labor. I had multiple interventions and an epidural before he was born 19 hours later. I believed we made the right choices and felt proud after his birth, but it was not the experience I had hoped for.
One day during my second pregnancy, I saw a friend at Mass and remembered her telling me months earlier that the 54 day Rosary Novena is her favorite prayer. In that moment, I felt that God was calling me to pray the novena in preparation for Ellie's birth. I was intimidated. Even a normal nine day novena feels long sometimes! But I began the next day. The 54 days was set to end when I was 38 weeks and one day pregnant, so I believed I would be able to conclude the novena before she was born. Each evening, while my husband, Adam, was helping Peter fall asleep, I prayed the Rosary and asked for Mary's intercession for a safe, natural labor. I experienced great consolation and felt Mary walking so closely with me. Instead of the constant anxiety and desire to control that I had during my first pregnancy, I focused on surrendering and felt so much peace. I knew deeply that no matter what the outcome was, God had planned this birth for our good. I focused on the idea "the Author of Life has written our birth story."
On Sunday, May 28, I laid down to take an afternoon nap. I woke up around 2:15 with the feeling that something was happening and when I got out of bed my water broke. While I was sleeping my mom had sent me a text saying, "Any impending signs of labor?" I went to tell Adam what happened and then called to tell her. She and my sister began putting their bags in the car so they could make the 2 1/2 hour drive to have Peter while we went to the hospital. I was feeling a lot of emotions all at once: excitement because I knew this meant Ellie was coming soon, nervousness that it was time, and also disappointment. I had prayed that labor would clearly start on its own without my water breaking first because I wanted to avoid the interventions we had with Peter.
I got into the shower to try to help myself relax and prayed, asking God for a safe, natural labor, but ultimately to be able to accept His will. About an hour after my water broke, my mom and sister got on the road and Adam started packing the car. I was playing with Peter in the living room and trying to stay calm and relaxed.
Around 4, I began to have some mild contractions. They were irregular but I was so excited and grateful! They soon became more regular and when my mom and sister arrived around 5:30 they were about every 10 minutes. I focused on breathing through them and pictured each contraction helping to open my body in preparation for Ellie's delivery. I prayed day 53 of the Rosary Novena as we made the 30 minute drive to the hospital, pausing to grimace as we crossed train tracks and hit rough pavement in a roadwork site.
When we arrived, we had to wait around 30 minutes before a triage room was ready. At this point, contractions were around 5-7 minutes apart and more intense, but I still felt calm and was walking and breathing to get through them.
Once we were in the triage room, they hooked me up to the monitor and did a swab to confirm that my water had broken. I declined a cervical check and was told that meant they couldn't do anything and we'd just have to wait. "Perfect! As long as she is looking good on the monitors and I'm continuing to progress in labor I don't want you to do anything!" Contractions began to come 4-5 minutes apart. Adam would tell me before one was coming so that I could stand up and then he would provide counterpressure on my lower back while I leaned on him. During this time, the labor affirmations I had prepared kept coming to my mind. I felt so comforted praying, "Jesus, I surrender myself to you; take care of everything." as I breathed through the waves.
Around 7:15 we were taken across the hallway to our room, the same room where Peter was born two years and three days earlier! My contractions were now every 3-4 minutes and very intense. My nurses were wonderful and supportive. They offered me a sticker monitor instead of the belts since they knew I wanted a natural labor. It was difficult to hold still to have a hep lock placed and to lie on my back for the sticker monitor to be adhered. I thought of one of my affirmations, from St. Lawrence: "Sheltered under the name of Christ, I do not fear these pains, for they do not last long." I figured if he could say that while being grilled alive, I could handle laboring on my back while they placed the monitor.
Once this was over, I told Adam I wanted to get into the shower. The hot water helped for a few minutes but the pain was growing more intense so I decided to try to take a bath. I kept trying different positions but was starting to feel overwhelmed. I couldn't find relief. I lost my sense of time. The contractions were so intense and coming on top of each other. I was expecting my labor to go more quickly than it had with Peter, guessing that Ellie would be born around 2-3 a.m. I felt defeated, knowing I couldn't make it six more hours like this. I told Adam to call our nurse and tell her I wanted the epidural. He tried to tell me that I was in transition but I didn't believe him.
Adam helped me get out of the bath and dry off. As I headed back towards bed, I suddenly felt the urge to poop. I had a moment of panic - was she coming or did I really need to go to the bathroom?! Our nurse was already coming into the room since I had asked for the epidural so she and Adam helped me onto the bed so that I could be checked. Fully dilated! She called the rest of the team into the room and I got onto all fours. I felt like I was in a different world, so focused and out of touch with time. I have no idea how long or how many times I pushed, but I do know that at 8:58 p.m., on the feast of Pentecost, Eleanor Therese was born after a safe, natural labor.
I had very similar tears with both babies but found recovery to be so much easier after the natural labor. It was amazing to be able to get out of bed on my own instead of waiting for the numbness to wear off from the epidural. Ellie seemed much more alert than Peter had been and was nursing within an hour of being born.
Each detail of her birth was planned by God. Even the fact that my water broke before I was experiencing any contractions, which seemed like an unanswered prayer, turned out to be a gift! My mom had planned to leave when I was having contractions every 5-10 minutes for an hour. She and my sister would not have arrived in time for us to make it if they had waited until then!
Going into Peter's labor, I was exhausted so I prayed to be well rested. With Ellie, we had decided last minute the day before to go the vigil Mass, meaning we had an easy Sunday at home and I literally woke up from a nap right before it all began. Last time, the monitor made it more difficult to deal with the pains of labor because I had to stay in a set position in bed in order for them to have a good reading on Peter. A friend had told me about the sticker monitor but she had to really push to receive it and I wasn't even sure if our hospital had it. My nurse offered it to me without me needing to ask. The day after Ellie was born, I prayed the final day of the Rosary Novena with her on my chest.
It is important to prepare for birth: to be informed about decisions you might have to make, to exercise and eat well, to plan for what may happen in your labor. However, this experience showed me that all of these are secondary to spiritually preparing for labor. I am so grateful for the experience of pregnancy and birth that God gave me with Ellie.
To learn more about the 54 day Rosary Novena, you can read here.
Caroline met her husband in college after converting to Catholicism. Their family now resides in Greenville, SC where she is a stay at home mom.