Learning to Lean In - Eileen's Three Natural Births at Birth Center and Home
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.