This birth story is one of my own as we celebrate this birth day exactly 13 years ago when at 4:47 a.m. David Dominic was born into the world into his father’s hands.
I had been feeling ready to have the baby for the previous two weeks, getting more and more restless and feeling like labor was imminent. It was different than my first two boys’ births in that I was not at all ready or expecting John Paul’s birth the night it happened and Michael’s birth occurred the exact night that I decided I was ready. The previous week or so had some prodromal labor and contractions were uncomfortable coming in spurts but never really progressing or intensifying. Baby felt very low and I could tell my body was ready to go into labor and my mind was definitely ready. Each day I would determine whether or not it would be a “good” day to have this baby…factors included, but were not limited to, whether it was a good saint feast day, whether I liked the numbers of the dates, and whether the tiny trailer apartment was freshly cleaned and stocked with groceries. I was struggling with not getting frustrated that this baby was not cooperating with my plans despite knowing and believing that babies come when they're ready.
I went to sleep that Friday night May 8 thinking again that tonight could be the night. At dinner that evening I felt more exhausted and ready than ever and again got the house and my mind prepared for birth. That day I had wrestled with the feeling that I would never have this baby and just plain felt miserable. Brian and I went to bed around 10:00. At around 1:15 a.m. I awoke to a sharp contraction which is exactly what happened with my previous births. I didn’t get up right away but lay in bed waiting to see if it really had been a contraction or if something else had startled me awake. About 7 or 8 minutes later I had another and these felt different than my normal preparation contractions. My first labor took about 10 hours and my second was an hour and a half from first contraction to holding baby in my arms. Because of this, I knew that once I was sure birth had begun I had to call our hour and a half away midwife right away so that she would have time to get here. In fact, I had been praying and hoping for a slightly longer labor than Michael’s for that reason and in order to allow myself more time to really enter into the labor more than I was able with the last. So there was no falling back asleep. As each contraction came over me, I was beginning to let myself get excited that the time for birth had come and soon I would be holding this new little one in my arms.
I woke up my husband after three or four contractions and told him I thought it was time. We timed a few contractions at 4 to 7 minutes apart. As I paced around the house with excited energy, I, of course, second-guessed myself as to whether I should call Jen. The last thing I wanted to do was wake her up and especially start driving all the way out here if it was a false alarm. I voiced this to Brian and he immediately told me to CALL. He had seen me go into labor twice before and he could tell just by looking at me that it was time. So we called and Jen left to get to our house.
After hanging up and knowing she was on her way, it was time to tackle the Labor List…yes, a literal list. The number one thing on the list was to move the sound machine, which was bought specifically for this purpose, to right in front of the older brothers' bedroom door. I had wanted to labor and birth at night and preferred to have the boys stay asleep through it all so that I would be able to focus on labor. Besides, how cool would it be to surprise them with a new brother or sister in the morning! I wasn’t sure it would work, but thought the sound machine was worth a try. With that done, Brian immediately set to task filling up our birth pool (a.k.a. inflatable children’s fishy swimming pool), our first time having one for a birth. During this time, labor was getting stronger and stronger. In between surges, Brian and I completed other tasks on The List…setting up the bed with old sheets and waterproof pads, getting out lots of towels, lighting candles, making orange juice, taking out some frozen zucchini bread for the midwife and her assistant, getting the camera ready, and light cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen.
When everything on The List was done, the pool was about half way full and surges were coming two to three minutes apart and very intense. Brian thoughtfully suggested that we pray a Rosary together. I asked to pray the Joyful Mysteries due to the third Mystery being the Birth of Christ and I really wanted to focus on the joy. Brian led since I didn’t feel I was able to keep track and towards the end, I wasn’t able to even pray out loud during the contractions. But I mumbled/mouthed the prayers as best I could while Brian prayed out loud. It was truly a grace-filled, beautiful moment in our marriage. Labor and birth is something that transcends the purely natural world and our prayer together allowed us to remember that and offer all of it to our Lord through His Mother, just as He came into the world.
Before and during the Rosary I had begun choosing to squat during contractions. It definitely increased the pressure and intensity of each contraction but that was okay with me. I knew that by getting in that position I was opening up my pelvis and working with the surge and helping our little one move down. It was hard physically since it did intensify the contractions so much but knowing that it was shortening labor and allowing me to work with my body made them more manageable. Shortly after we finished praying I was ready to get in the pool.
The heat felt really comforting at first and it was nice to be able to relax a little bit in between the surges. During them, though, I was feeling overheated so Brian helped by getting me cool washcloths to place on my forehead and neck. THAT felt so great! I liked that in the water it was so easy to change positions…during what I now know was transition I found myself with arms and head down on the side of the pool (with a cold washcloth) and the rest of my body in the water. One of the biggest comforts during this time was the ice cold orange juice with a straw that Brian brought to me in the pool. It sounds silly, but it tasted SO good and helped give me a bit of energy to keep working. It was around that time, maybe 4:15 or so, that Jen arrived. I was definitely in transition at that point and I remember telling Brian to tell her I was beginning to feel pushy.
I wasn’t in the mood for small talk at that point and Jen could tell right away that I was close. When she arrived, she quietly came in, set up her supplies and equipment, whispering if she needed to talk, and was so respectful of the space and sacredness of the moment. I could hear her and Brian whispering to each other, and for some reason, the murmur of the quiet voices was comforting to me. It made me feel respected, yet taken care of. Her assistant Emily arrived a few minutes later and volunteered to take the camera for us and get some shots, which I was incredibly grateful for.
Transition and those moments and contractions right before pushing are beautiful agony. During those times, I was leaning and rocking in the water, keeping the crucifix we had placed on the nearby table in my mind. I remember moaning, “God, help me” and the precious name of Jesus over and over. About two or three contractions after Jen arrived (or maybe it was more…time seems so elastic when you’re in labor), I told Jen I needed to push. I remember the urge feeling gradually stronger with each contraction until finally, there is no way you can NOT push. It is beyond your control because your entire body is pushing whether you want to or not. I tried to put my hands down to support my perineum and avoid a tear but I found that awkward with the way my body decided to push. I had thought I would try a hands and knees position but I ended up flipping and leaning with my back against the pool wall. It felt as though my entire body was being twisted like a wet washcloth inside of me and the pushing came without thought. During my previous births, I remember the doctor telling me not to push when everything in my body was already pushing. It’s like telling someone to hold it in when they have to vomit. You can’t. The fetal ejection reflex takes over and you are pushing. This birth, I had decided to trust that my body knew what it was doing. Jen didn’t tell me to push or not push but go with what my body was doing. I wanted to try not to tear as I had with my other births and a slower push would help with that but I found it impossible to move slower. I allowed my body to take over as it pushed with everything in me.
During this time I felt like I was in another world. It took concentration to associate with anything in the real world and my whole being was focused on the task of Having This Baby. I think it was after that second pushing contraction that I could feel the baby’s head fill up inside of me and begin to crown. It was then that Brian quickly jumped in the water to help catch the baby. Another push quickly followed and the baby’s head was out. The RELIEF that follows that is unbelievable. Jen noticed a loose nuchal cord (the cord around his neck, very common and not usually a cause for concern) and flipped it off while the baby was still face down in Brian’s hands. I had a few moments to breathe and take a very quick rest before the next contraction came and I felt sharp shoulders and the rest of my baby’s body slip out into the water and into Brian’s hands.
Our baby was born into a quiet, candlelit room into warm water and the first hands to touch him were of the very people who helped create him. Brian without a second delay carefully put the baby right onto my chest. I was so tired but the relief and elation that simultaneously filled my heart was indescribable. I got up the strength to cradle our little one and discovered that we had been blessed with another beautiful son! What a beautiful, perfect gift that had grown inside of me! I was thrilled and our new little boy promptly fell asleep right on my chest in the water…no crying, no bright lights and yelling, no being whisked away cold and afraid…just a beautiful, peaceful birth into his parent’s arms.
We were able to stay like that for awhile as I rested and took in these awesome moments. We allowed the cord to finish pumping blood into the baby and didn’t cut it until it had stopped. Brian cut the cord as I was still holding our little one on my chest. At this point I finally surrendered him into Brian’s arms so that I could get out of the pool and finish up the birthing process in our bed. Jen and Emily helped me get out and get to the bed where I was able to quickly deliver the placenta in a few pushes. I had torn again but I chose to allow the tear to heal naturally rather than put in those painful stitches which make recovery so difficult.
Brian then brought the baby into me to nurse while Jen and Emily did cleanup and checked the placenta to make sure it was complete. He latched on great and nursed right away for at least twenty minutes. This was the only time he would nurse, however, for about 24 hours. He was just so sleepy and no matter what we tried to do, he slept and had no interest in nursing. He also had a good amount of mucous that he would cough every so often during that time which may have played a role in his desire to nurse. Because he wasn’t nursing very often, he didn’t have his first bowel movement until about 24 hours. (We now know this was also one of the signs of his Hirschsprung's Disease which looking back makes me even more incredibly grateful we were at home but that's a whole other story.) Just when we were beginning to get worried that next day, he perked up and everything started working fine. His temperature was also a bit low that first day. It wasn’t worrisome but in order to keep him warm I kept him skin-to-skin with me under the blankets. I was so grateful not to be in a hospital. We knew how to keep an eye on things and we would have gotten outside help if his vital signs had gotten worrisome, but we also knew that the overabundance of caution in the hospital setting often causes its own set of issues and would have been unnecessarily traumatic for both me and baby.
At around 5:45 a.m. the older brothers woke up and Brian went into get them from their room. I think they were a bit confused by Jen’s presence in the living room as they were cleaning out the birth pool but Brian directed them to the bedroom for a very special surprise. The expressions on their faces when they first saw their new baby brother were priceless and I am so grateful we caught a bit of it on the camera. They were first quite awe-struck and that quickly turned into excitement that the baby we had been talking about for nine months had finally been born! John Paul’s first words after he had taken everything in were “Can I bless the baby?” which he did with his holy water from his bedroom. Michael was just enthralled and didn’t want to leave the baby’s side all day.
Shortly after the boys awoke, Jen performed the newborn exam. He weighed 6 pounds, 15 ounces, EXACTLY the same weights as both John Paul and Michael at birth! Brian joked that I must have an internal sensor that knows just when the baby is ‘done’ or when my body just can’t take another ounce! He was 19 inches long and his head was 14.5 inches around.
While Jen and Emily cleaned up (apparently, according to Jen, I am a VERY neat birther…no surprise there) and then relaxed in the kitchen with some coffee and zucchini bread, we were able to spend some beautiful intimate moments as a family in our bed rejoicing in this new little member of our family. It was one of the sweetest memories and mornings of my life. We couldn’t get over how much he looked like his brothers when they were born! We put off calling family and friends right away because the moment just seemed too special. It was neat that we were the only ones in that early morning that knew our little one had made his entrance into the world.
Jen checked me to see how I was doing. My bleeding was very minimal, I hadn’t felt at all lightheaded, and I was feeling great besides the normal soreness and postpartum cramping. Jen and Emily left at about 8 a.m. and we spent the next few hours just enjoying these special moments.
At around 10 we decided to make the calls and soon everyone knew about our new little boy. We had yet to decide on a name and in fact, it would take us a full 5 days to finally settle on one! A name is a very big deal to us and we wanted to make sure it was the right one for our baby. We finally decided on the name David. It was not a name I was particularly leaning toward but during prayer we received some very clear signs. One night before the birth we were discussing names and Brian mentioned he liked David and I said I wasn’t a huge fan but we asked the Lord to show us. The radio had been on and immediately the speaker on the radio (Christopher West) began talking about David the king of Israel and how it related to the Theology of the Body. A few days later, again discussing names, I asked Brian why he liked the name David. He replied that King David had been a “man after God’s own heart” according to the book of Acts. A few minutes later we were putting John Paul to bed and he flipped open his Bible to a random page and asked why we never read that page. No joke it was a page about King David and how he was a man after God’s heart! And in case we needed one more sign, on the way to his Baptism, I was again second-guessing the decision. Immediately, I looked over to the car next to us and on their license plate were the letters DAV. While it wasn’t the first name on my list, it was obviously the name the Lord wanted him to have and when I found out the name literally means “Beloved”, I liked it much more. So we picked Dominic as a middle name and his name in Hebrew and Latin means “Beloved of the Lord.” We were also considering included Dominic as first, Ignatius, Augustine, Raphael, as well as a few others.
I am so grateful and blessed that our precious David Dominic had such a beautiful birth. While I prepared myself a great deal all throughout pregnancy to experience a good birth, I know that it is ultimately a gift from God. Experiencing childbirth is one of the most empowering things I have ever gone through and each of my births has caused me to grow and become more the woman that God created me to be. How grateful I am for that sweet sweet morning on May 9. All glory to God.