Birth is the most incredible thing ever. I just love it and am so honored to have been given the gift of natural birth. Three births later, it is beautiful to see how the Lord pulls you out of your immaturity into greater things. My birth experiences have informed my motherhood and my wifehood, and made me see just how awe-inspiring God’s creative plan is.
When I found out I was expecting my first, I knew I wanted a natural birth. My three older sisters had had all of their babies naturally in either birth centers or at home. So I called the Catholic hospital nearby with a NaproFertility center and midwives to schedule an appointment. They did not answer the phone, and I thank God every day that they did not, which I will explain later. I then called a freestanding birth center. They answered immediately and I scheduled a tour. It was love at first sight. It was a cozy house, basically a home away from home — I don’t think they even owned episiotomy scissors, my mortal fear. I immediately gelled with the midwife who ran it. She was tough, she was a firefighter, she was just who God knew I would need.
I had read Ina May Gaskin’s books, The Positive Birth Book, every Mama Natural blog post ever, the Doctor Sears Breastfeeding book and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. (First time breastfeeding moms: please read the breastfeeding books before the baby comes! Once the baby is in your arms and hungry, there is no way you’re going to be able to read a book.)
We do conception dating and Creighton tracking so my dates are very accurate. My due date came and went. 41 weeks, 41.5 weeks. Every mom who has been past that date knows that those days, which are really so few, feel like weeks. But I had no fears about birth. The reading I had done and my laser focus on positive stories only had prepared me for birth without fear. I was excited, huge, and impatient. But I was afraid of going over 42 weeks and not being able to give birth at the birth center. On Friday night my husband was at Adoration and I just sat on my bed begging, “Saint Joseph, your Son won’t listen to me. Please send me into labor tonight.” I had already begun the process of labor not having faith, thinking Our Lord wasn’t with me on this one. What a giant baby!
May 18th, I woke up at midnight, with my water trickling and very mild contractions. I texted my sisters, “My water just broke.” I called the birth center pager, and they had me come in at 6 a.m. for my GBS positive antibiotics. I tried to sleep but was way too excited. At 6 a.m., the student midwife was waiting for us and gave me my first dose. I have a history of multiple health problems being antibiotic induced, so mentally it was very hard for me to take antibiotics, and each time I saw those antibiotics coming, I would get incredibly tense and upset. The poor student knew how distressed I was and hated being the one causing it. Then they sent us back home with several doses of antibiotics to be administered every four hours. My husband, Ethan, and I were upbeat all day, except when we had to attach the antibiotic IV.
We had expected a long labor, being a first time mom. At 6 p.m., we went back to the center for more antibiotic doses. The car ride was uncomfortable with contractions every 5-7 minutes, and the midwife asked if I just wanted to stay the night. I said yes, I could not drive the half hour home again in that state. Labor continued, and I just kept squatting and moving, trying to dance baby down. It was definitely not something I could rest through, but it wasn’t incredibly intense or painful. I could feel how strong my contractions were, thanks to faithfully drinking red raspberry leaf tea. I also had distanced myself from everything stressful that I knew could slow me down: I didn’t go near my phone, and it was just me and my husband in the room together. More antibiotics came as each set of four hours passed. That was the hardest part, hoping that each dose would be my last and I would be done before the next four hours.
My midwife came in late in the night, saw me, and said, “I think you’re going to have this
baby around 2 a.m.” I was very deflated at this point, almost at the 24 hour mark, and shrugged, not really believing her. I was exhausted, having been up for 22 hours. I had also given up praying; in my head I was thinking really dumb thoughts like, “The Blessed Mother won’t help
me, she had a painless birth.” How could I betray my friends who had never abandoned me before! But I wouldn’t see just how much Jesus and His Mother were guiding my whole birth
until it was over. And of course my husband never stopped praying for me, and he was so incredibly encouraging every second of the labor. I lay down on the bed and suddenly fell asleep for a perfect 20 minutes—the time it takes to have a complete sleep cycle. I woke up feeling like I had slept for an entire night and knew in that moment my guardian angel had given that to me. I felt like I could keep going.
May 19th 2 p.m.
My goodness, but labor is much more of a mental game than a physical one. At least, your mental state informs the physical reality in a big way. Thank goodness I was so unafraid of the process because that was what kept me going. I firmly believed in God’s design for birth, and that we cannot improve on it. We just have to work with it and be receptive to the power He instills in us. The thought of pain relief never even entered my mind because I had decided long ago I was unwilling to take the risks associated with it, and I had chosen a location where it wasn’t even an option. My contractions would build and build, and then slow down again. I had so far declined all cervical checks, but my midwife asked me if she could check the baby’s position and my dilation with one. “Just as I thought,” she said. “You’re stretchy to a 7, but baby’s head is tilted to the side, so there’s a cervical lip that hasn’t effaced.” It made sense, the baby had had his/her hand by its face every time they felt my uterus for positioning the last few weeks.
The midwife immediately got me into a series of positions to turn the baby’s head. As soon as that series of exercises was over, there was a huge shift. My contractions stopped ebbing away and got closer together. I finally had bloody show while sitting on the toilet—the only place I wanted to be. Transition began, but I didn’t know it. I thought to myself, “Millions of women have done this before me, and here I am, joining their ranks.”
I thanked my guardian angel that I had done so many squats while pregnant because I had basically been doing squats for 40 hours! My midwife came in during transition and saw me almost completely drained, trying not to cry as I hung from my husband's neck. “You’re the only one who can get this baby out, Eileen.” That was exactly what I needed to hear! I knew that if such an experienced midwife thought I still had the strength to get a baby out, I could. I got into the tub and everything stopped. For a blessed moment I felt nothing. In those few seconds, my eyes were unseeing and my husband said he saw that I was completely not present. For the first time in my life I felt what it is like to not think at all. Then I began to feel the pushing urge.
It was hard for me to find a position that felt right, but they brought me a stool which was just what I needed. The student midwife put her hand in the place where I needed to bear down, which I couldn’t figure out instinctively. I’ve never been so loud in my life. “You’re running away
from the push Eileen,” the midwife told me. “Push INTO it.” She was so good at reading what I
needed to hear!
The baby was finally born! One and a half hours of pushing, each push just telling myself, “The only way out of it is through it.” And then finally all the pressure was completely gone and I held our baby in my arms and got to see what the sex was! “Aoife Lourdes! You’re here!” I didn’t know it was possible to be so unbearably happy and relieved.
Ethan blessed the baby immediately. He said nothing transformed him more than seeing me in those 42 hours and getting our baby girl into the world. It made him love us both more, and his own mother more. Her cord was so short and thick I could only lift her to my belly! I bled a lot, but some fast action Pitocin and skilled midwifery took care of it.
My poor sisters, meanwhile, hadn’t heard from me for two days and were freaking out. One even sent her husband to drive by the birth cottage to see if our car was there. Whoops. I sent them a text at midnight when we got home, “Baby here. We are all home and ok.” Labor had been long, and mentally intense, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Months later I heard from a friend of mine with an eerily similar labor of a malpositioned baby who had gone to the hospital I had originally called. She had ended up with a cesarean. I thank God every day that he led me to a midwife who had the knowledge on how to rotate the baby and knew that I had the strength and ability to get the baby out. I'm thankful that my little girl was a solid 8 lbs. 10 oz. and never went into distress, that I didn’t have continuous fetal monitoring to cause me and therefore the baby distress, and that I ate the whole way through so that I didn’t get too exhausted. I had no fear that the midwife and student midwife would do anything to me I didn’t want them to. And they never let on in the least that they had any concern or that they were outside shoveling ditches in the pouring rain to keep the center from flooding (I didn’t even know it was raining!). The next day, when another midwife from the center visited me at home for the 24 hour check, she said, “Wow, I heard yours was one for the books. They haven’t had one like that in a long time.” But I was on cloud nine. “It was AWESOME!” I beamed.
That birth taught me that I am equipped by God to be the mother of our children. If I could do that, I could do anything, and to never, ever be such a wuss about His presence and guiding hand again. Postpartum was so joyful, breastfeeding went well, and seven months later, I was pregnant again.
I don’t want to be negative about birth, as I am its biggest fan, but pre and post natal anxiety are very real and I don’t want other moms to feel alone if they are going through it. Family strife was making me very agitated and the pregnancy was not peaceful. Covid restrictions made me afraid of transport to a hospital and the possibility of Ethan not being allowed in with me. At 32 weeks, being uncomfortable with the precautions my birth center had taken, I switched to a home birth midwife who was Catholic. She was so different from my first, firefighter midwife (who I obviously loved). She is one of those people who, when she walks in the room, peace radiates from her whole being. I felt a surge of relief that if I was giving birth in my own home, no one could force me to do anything. But I really didn’t realize how anxious I was, and I was in such a fog that I didn’t realize I wasn’t feeling normal. Baby added a bit to my stress by flipping breech at 37 weeks, but my midwife is so skilled she turned him back gently with no discomfort to me at all. I read Made for This which helped me prepare prayerfully for birth.
September 24, 1 a.m.
After a few bouts of mild prodromal labor, and after taking castor oil (don’t do it!), I went into real labor with contractions starting at two minutes apart. I was ten days post dates. Again. My midwife came right away since the contractions were so close together. But as soon as she arrived they slowed down, and I napped in the Bradley Method runner's lunge position between surges throughout the night. I watched the funny I Love Lucy episode where she goes into labor and laughed with my husband. We cracked lots of jokes and the midwives commented that we were in good spirits for labor.
Labor was physically much more demanding this time because it wasn’t such a slow build up. But I was still internally stressed, mainly due to some recent drawn out happenings outside of my birth. Mamas, don’t underestimate your mental state. I was in such a negative place for so many reasons, and I was so upset to be late again. Try to pinpoint what is upsetting you and bring it up to your support group. It will help so much to externally process your fears and your tension. And if you hear something that frightens you about birth, tell someone. I bottled up a negative thought that occurred to me, and boy did it play a part in my pushing phase, which I think could have been a lot shorter.
It took two and a half hours of pushing on a stool next to our bed, my husband sitting behind me holding both my hands and praying in my ear. My midwife quoted Isaiah to me, “The Lord God said, I will guide you out of your mother’s womb.” I looked at the crucifix above the dresser and united my pain with Our Lord. With a hand by his face, the cord around his body three times, our little boy was born. Theophan, manifestation of God. It was a 13.5 hour labor.
Postpartum was a total fog. Bonding was difficult, in part I think because I had been too exhausted and shaky to hold him when he was born, and in part because he had an undiagnosed lip and tongue tie. He popped off nursing constantly, but I wasn’t in pain nursing him so it didn’t occur to me that that could be the problem. He cried all the time. My poor boy, he was struggling from the tension of the ties, I think, and not eating enough. But I was so out of it I didn’t notice. I just held him in a wrap all the time. Finally, as the months passed and I began to feel better, I realized I had had some serious postpartum anxiety, and did what I could on the physical level by taking supplements to replenish lost nutrients and balance hormones. Thank goodness I knew about skin to skin baby time because I think that helped me and Theophan infinitely. Once again, God got me through that anxious winter and I have joyful memories of spending most of it on the floor playing with little Aoife with Theophan in my lap.
July 23rd 2021
On the very day after we discovered we were expecting again, our little baby Joseph went to the arms of God. It is so strange, that we only knew about him for one day of his life and yet I still think about him every day. I know he is playing an important role for our family in eternity and he loves us just as we do him. I never saw his face, but it is still sketched on my heart forever. It has been tempting many times to disbelieve that little line on the pregnancy test, as it was the only proof we ever had of his existence, since his miscarriage was termed a “chemical pregnancy” - a term that makes me feel like my baby wasn’t even human. But God gave me endless graces to know his reality, Joseph was even taken on a feast day that was very important to us.
Before he was conceived I had had a sudden thought, that I don’t think was my own, that had said, “We aren’t going to get to keep the next baby.” My sister gave me the book Grieving Together which is an invaluable resource for couples, and that was very comforting. It reassured me that I was allowed to be sad even though I hadn’t had weeks to get attached to the baby. I knew moms who had suffered terribly from miscarriage, and I hadn't wanted to equate my suffering with theirs. That book also helped me prepare for what a baby after miscarriage can be like.
August 27, 2021
We discovered our rainbow baby was coming. What is it about rainbow babies? They are so mysterious, as often we wouldn’t have them if the little ones before now in eternity had lived. The joy of birth is even more abundant when you know what it is possible to lose.
This pregnancy I faithfully went to the chiropractor, because everyone I knew who had done so had short labors. I thought, better try, and it will offer relief along the way anyway! I highly recommend chiropractic care. It made all the difference.
May 16, 2022
Once again, I got to 41.5 weeks. This pregnancy had been peaceful and so joyful. I had told my husband my one fear, “another long pushing phase. I don’t care if labor is long, but I don’t want a slow pushing phase.” I had pelvic girdle pain but chiropractic care offered tons of relief. I was once again losing my mind with how “late” I was, mostly because baby was turning somersaults and didn’t seem to prefer head down. My midwife, who doesn’t often recommend induction, was worried about the baby flipping breech again and offered me a membrane sweep with evening primrose oil. I didn’t want to be induced naturally either, but I couldn’t handle the stress of the flipping. After she turned him again, she went to do the sweep but I wasn’t dilated at all! She couldn’t do the sweep, but she did apply the oil to my cervix and said we’d check again tomorrow.
The next day I went to my chiropractic appointment, and then my midwife came to my house. I was now 3 cm so she did the sweep. I felt achy and did hip rotations on the birth ball and then made dinner as usual. During dinner I had to close my eyes as one large surge swept over my womb. Then we put the kids to bed. “I don’t believe anything is happening,” I told Ethan. “I will never have this baby.” It isn’t that I doubt God’s love and plan, so much as St. Teresa of Avila’s line tends to run through my head when something I don’t like is happening to me: “If this is the way you treat your friends, then no wonder you have so few!”
I laid down on my bed and turned on affirmations but I couldn’t pay attention because suddenly I was having intense contractions. I lay in the Bradley position and relaxed into the bed as far as I could. Then I decided I should probably time them. 1.5 minutes apart, 30 seconds long. Huh. I texted my midwife, “These contractions are really short but they are STRONG.” “I’ll come and check on baby and if nothing is happening I will sleep over at my friend’s house nearby,” she replied. She lives 45 minutes away.
I got up and got all my birth supplies out and then things really picked up. My husband rushed outside to move the cars so the midwife could park at our door. He stuffed towels under the kids’ door and put another sound machine outside of it. He started blowing up the tub, but I was so into labor I couldn’t bear to hear the pump while I was in a contraction and I needed to lean on him! So he kept having to stop and start. We were cracking up the whole time. As soon as the pool was full enough, I jumped in. There is nothing like the water, so much pressure is relieved! And I had no ring of fire because of that water.
My midwife and assistant midwife arrived and knew right away they were staying. This pregnancy, thanks to Bridget Teyler, I learned about the different hip opening exercises you can do to rotate baby through the pelvis. They made a huge difference, and the water made me feel weightless and able to switch positions easily. I literally felt the baby plunk down at one point while I was shifting into one of the positions. I kept reciting in my head Talise the Homebirth Queen’s mantra, “This is power and pressure, not pain.” Boy was it pressure!
I looked up at the same crucifix above the dresser during one particularly difficult contraction and said, “Jesus, my Friend!” I prayed, “Mama Mary, Mama Mary.” But I could only get out, “Mama!” most of the time. I offered the contractions up for the mothers in Purgatory… but I’ll be honest the thought did occur to me, “If all moms went through this, how many could there be in purgatory?! I think we all get a free pass!” Another time I turned to the midwives and Ethan and said, “Keep talking so I don’t project and think this is going to go on for a long time.” And another time I thought “This baby is going to be 10 pounds.” and I felt my whole body tense up. So I turned to Ethan and said, “Tell me this is going to be an eight pounder just like our other two late kids.”
I did all my relaxation techniques, but as transition continued, I could feel myself tensing up, running away from the pressure. My guardian angel once again stepped in. “If you run away, it will last longer,” he said. “Lean into the pressure!” As soon as I got myself out of the way, I heard my voice change, felt the tremendous urge to get on my hands and knees, and then the strongest fetal ejection reflex ever. In my mind I thought, “Wow transition is over!” I never know when transition is happening.
“Okay,” I said to myself, prepping for the pushing phase in the two seconds that had passed, “You have the urge to push, and then it will go away, and then you will push again, etc..” but that pushing feeling never went away. I felt my water burst, heard my midwife say, “There is the head! Oh! And there is the body!” And swoosh, he shot into the water in one push.
I sat back in the birth pool, totally in shock that I had only pushed one time, laughing and laughing as they handed me the baby. And there was the hand, up by the face again. “That can
be like little Michael Phelps swimming,” my midwife said. “It can help them to swim out fast!” We
looked and saw it was a boy, Edmund Campion! Then everyone in the room was like, “Whoa.”
because this boy was big! I did the chux pad shuffle to the bed for the placenta delivery and
I nursed the baby.
I couldn’t wait to see how much he weighed. 10 lbs. and he had a 16 inch circumference head. All my babies have huge heads, but his was the biggest. And yet he was still the easiest one ever! For reference, I am not a tall or broad person. I weighed 108 lbs. at the beginning of Edmund’s gestation and I am 5 feet 5 inches. He is definitely my biggest brag! (And yes, I think birth is something you can brag about in a positive way, not in a scare someone way, but in a sharing, joyful way!)
But really the credit goes to God, who had greater plans than I could imagine for me. He made sure I got a natural first birth that paved the way for the others, a second birth that was a completely different kind of challenge but was united to His own suffering, and a third birth that was so beautiful and peaceful. What will the next (God willing!) birth be like?
Eileen makes her family’s home in New Hampshire, surviving the mess induced by three kids three and under with minimalism tactics, and is way too crunchy. You can find her third birth story on Mama Natural’s YouTube channel here.