Erin's *Three Hour* Natural First Birth with Cholestasis
I found out I was pregnant on September 29th, 2021, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel! I
was so excited to be pregnant, but lingering in the back of my mind was an intense dread of
labor. I wanted to get rid of this fear, so I began learning and preparing! I read Made for This:
The Catholic Mom’s Guide to Birth which was so helpful and crucial in my journey to trust God’s
design for birth. Before I was ever pregnant I knew that I wanted an unmedicated birth. While I hadn’t done much research into it, I thought there must be a lot of grace in going through birth the way that God designed, and there probably is a reason that God made birth the way He did! He designed it to give birth and it is so important to be able to trust your body to do what it was made for.
In addition to reading the book, I took a Bradley Method birth class which was incredibly helpful to learn about birth, nutrition, relaxation during labor, and good exercises to prepare. I did 200 kegels a day, lots of squats, pelvic rocks, and lots of running and walking. Lastly, at 36 weeks I began eating dates everyday even though I do not like them at all! But putting peanut butter on them made them tolerable. (More information on the benefits of eating dates for labor can be found here.) I also made sure to do spiritual preparation! I prayed a lot to Mary about pregnancy and birth. I especially enjoyed praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I requested a relic of St. Gerard Majella and began praying to him daily as one of the patron saints of expectant mothers. (You can request his relic here!)
I was blessed to have a very smooth pregnancy. I did not have any complications until my 35th
week of pregnancy when I unfortunately got a kidney stone. I was able to pass it in 12 hours, but it was very painful (more than labor!). Thankfully, baby and I were both fine. Then at 38+1 weeks
pregnant I got COVID for the first time. I had painful body aches and a fever for several days. It
was unpleasant, but baby and I were still both okay. Towards the end of that I started to have
intense full-body itching that would only subside if I took freezing cold showers to numb my skin.
I later found out that I had developed cholestasis. Cholestasis is a pregnancy complication of the liver that can potentially be dangerous for your baby if your total bile acid level is above 100 mmol/L. My bile acid level was only 20 mmol/L, so while I did have painful itching, there was no greater risk of stillbirth for my baby and no need for an induction.
With a kidney stone, Covid, and cholestasis happening all within the last month of my
pregnancy I was so physically drained. I didn’t think I was ready to go through the labor I had prepared for. I begged God to delay my labor, though I knew most first time moms would go
past 40 weeks anyway! However I couldn’t shake this feeling that it would happen soon. On Monday, June 6th, at 39+3 I woke up at 3:19 a.m. to take another cold shower to try again to manage the intense itching. While I was awake I felt some minor period cramp like pain, but still no consistent contractions with distinct start and stop intervals. I went back to sleep. At 5:09 a.m., I woke up and heard a little pop. I instantly knew that the pop was my water breaking and I ran to the shower. As soon as I got there I had my first contraction and it was more intense and longer than I expected it would be.
My first contraction was several minutes long and double peaked - this continued my whole
labor with little to no break in between any. I also noticed that my water wasn't clear and had light meconium staining which means baby pooped in the womb. It's almost always a normal developmental sign but sometimes in can mean that the baby is not handling labor well. I called for my husband and he came in and began to time my contractions. I did my best to use the Bradley method of relaxation during each contraction, which definitely helped, but what helped the most was when I would pray during a contraction. I begged God for help and the strength to be able to endure. Without fail, every time I turned to God they were much more manageable.
My husband timed a few, saw how long and close together they were, and then called our OB and doula. They assumed we had some time since I was a first time mom but told me to go ahead and come to the hospital. My doula said she’d meet us at the hospital, but after 45 minutes of my husband not being able to leave me to go put the bags in the car (we live on the third floor and there’s no elevator), he called our doula and she came to our apartment instead. When my doula got there, she heard my contractions and knew from the sounds I was already beginning to push, which was very true as I was already strongly feeling that urge. My doula said we could call 911 and birth the baby in the tub or start moving towards the hospital. I told her to call 911– I was not going to leave the warm water! After another few contractions I remembered I had meconium staining and I found the motivation to try to get to the hospital in the rare chance my baby did need more help. After another one, I got out of the tub and put on clothes. My doula suggested I sing/scream to try to avoid helping my body push the baby out so that we’d make it to the hospital in time! I tried my best to avoid pushing but it was very painful. A few minutes later everything was ready and we began our journey down the three flights of stairs and to the car. My husband and doula each went on one side of me as we went down each flight, stopping on each landing to work through a contraction. We finally got to the car and began our 25 minute drive to the hospital. The whole time I was trying not to push.
We finally arrived at the hospital at 7:40 a.m. When we got there my husband frantically yelled across the parking lot to the security guard and asked “WHERE'S MATERNITY????”. We quickly found it, and I was wheeled to the front desk where we waited for them to come and get me. I heard the announcement “OB rapid response team needed at patient registration.” ("Haha thats me!" I thought.) We were taken to the OB E.R. briefly where the nurse deemed I was “acting very pushy” and took me to labor and delivery. (That would have been some pretty good acting!) One of the nurses wanted to do a cervical check, but after a lot of research I knew I didn’t want any so I refused. My doctor came in and asked to do a visual check, and when she looked she saw that the baby's head was already crowning!
It was just after 8 a.m. I began pushing— which felt good and brought me so much relief! After a handful of pushes, at 8:19 a.m., just 3 hours and 10 minutes from beginning to end, Peter Joseph was born! He was 8 lb. 5 oz., 21 inches long, breathing great, and very healthy (8-9 APGAR)! I had a minor first degree tear which I was so happy with as he had his hand on his face when he came out and his head was in the 99th percentile for circumference! I was so relieved when he was born– my trial was done (so I thought) and everything had gone so smoothly! I barely lost any blood and my body had worked perfectly!
Since I went so quick I didn’t have time to give the doctor my birth plan. A few minutes after the birth the doctor began to pull on my cord and push on my stomach to speed up the placental delivery. I leaned over and asked my husband what was going on but it was too late. The doctor began yelling at people to get her supplies and I began to lose lots of blood. They were able to
get it under control with lots of medication, and some very intense fundal massages that were
way more painful than labor. Everything ended up okay, but I was upset that I wasn’t able to deliver my placenta naturally, and that this very likely caused my hemorrhage. (More information on how actively managing the placenta increases the risk of complications including postpartum hemorrhaging can be found here.)
My body had worked so perfectly up until this point, and I was very upset that the doctor decided to do this unwanted intervention without my consent. I was able to process this pain through prayer, reading other people's birth stories, and a good conversation with a trusted OB. Although my birth didn’t end as I wanted, the rest had gone as I planned. I didn’t get to the hospital until the last second, helping to avoid interventions and I wasn’t pressured into having any
cervical checks. I was able to avoid induction--one of my greatest fears in childbirth! And labor
was only 3 hours and 10 minutes long!
Looking back, I am so happy I did as much research as I did and took the Bradley birth class–
doing this gave me the confidence to trust the decisions I made and keep me from being
pressured into unnecessary interventions. I am glad I ate those disgusting dates, definitely
worth it if it helped give a 3 hour labor! The spiritual preparation I did for birth also paid off. I am also so glad I got a doula! She was so amazing and helped so much with birth preparation and during labor. I hope she will be at all my future births! The only thing I would change is where I gave birth. The hospital was a very stressful environment and not well suited for natural births. Next time I will be at home or a birth center!
I can see God so clearly through my labor and birth. He was present in my husband, my doula,
the postpartum nurses, and especially in my precious sweet baby boy Peter Joseph! Peter was
born on the feast of St. Norbert, one of the patrons of childbirth, and the founder of the religious
order, the Norbertines (both my husband and I discerned joining this order!). I also now
understand the beauty of redemptive suffering. I am so grateful to God for the gift of birth and
am joyfully awaiting the opportunity to go through pregnancy and labor again!
Erin married her husband, Connor, on July 10th, 2021 and they welcomed their first child, Peter,
on June 6th, 2022. She lives in North Carolina and loves her newest hobby, snuggling Peter!