The Home Water Birth of Peter Simon Lolek
Four years ago today our sixth son Peter was born! So here's his birth story! Just one left to complete them all, I promise ;)
We knew what we were getting into, having done it five times over. And I knew it would be hard, sometimes gruelingly so. I'm getting older, my pregnancies are difficult (though thankfully without any major complications), and five growing kids is already a lot, not to mention being mom to all of them while pregnant. But we decided anyway that the beauty and fiat was worth the hard. On the feast of Saint John Paul the Great our newest little one was gifted to us.
I was right that the pregnancy would be difficult, sometimes agonizing, but perhaps by the grace of God it didn't feel all that long. Until, that is, that last month. That was the month when all of time seemed to stand still. When the sporadic contractions started around 38 weeks I did what every experienced mother knows that of course they shouldn't do but then goes and does anyway. I got excited. Maybe this baby will come earlier than the others! I knew they weren't "real" contractions but I was able to use them and work with them a bit and I could feel my body responding some. When one would come, I'd sway, dance, and squat into it and often with that came lots of pressure helping that little one lower down and engage. The prodromal excitement eventually abated, the contractions continued, and the days clicked over.
In the last few weeks the confidence I had built well before and all through this pregnancy began to wane. "Of COURSE, the whole crazy last minute breech thing won't happen again!" morphed into the whispers of "Well, why not? Maybe there's something wrong with you. Maybe your womb is too roomy, your fluid levels too high, your womb misshapen, your pelvis misaligned...Why CAN'T it happen again?" I became hypersensitive to the baby's position and any time there was "too much" movement, the anxiety was consuming. I really regret not having more confidence that even if baby did flip I could just have the baby at home, unassisted if needed. I did it once, I could do it again. The anxiety really puts a cloud in my memory over those last weeks of pregnancy.
We began praying more earnestly as a family for a simple, uncomplicated birth, through the intercession of Our Lady of Childbirth, St. Brigid, St. Gerard, JPII, and anyone else who would listen in heaven or on earth. We had the beautiful gift of a private Blessing of Parents Before Childbirth on June 29th, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul given by a priest friend of ours at the Carmelite Monastery.
And then...it really did happen. The baby flipped breech overnight when I was officially 38+6 weeks. I woke in the middle of the night and could tell that that right there hanging out uncomfortably between my ribs was a little baby head. I couldn't go back to sleep and as soon as I felt that the hour wasn't too rude, I texted my midwife first thing in the morning. Lovely lady she is, she came over to visit a few hours later and confirmed it. Baby at that point was transverse. I cried and tried not to freak out. We came up with a plan to go pray, go swimming, get in contact with my chiropractor, try some homeopathics, and we made plans for the possibility of baby staying breech. As we were talking in my bedroom, she mentioned me needing a verse or word to cling to to keep me from getting swallowed into the fear and anxiety. When we went downstairs in our door was tucked this:
Just a little pregnancy gift from the Jehovah's Witnesses who must have stopped by without us even hearing. How funny is that? I can't say it provided a ton of consolation in the moment but I tried. It reminded me a lot of one of the verses that was in my heart most approaching birth: "Be brave, my daughter." (Tobit 7:18).
It was a Saturday, thankfully, so we packed up the whole family and headed first to Adoration and then to my mom's pool. I'm grateful that we not only had that option this time but that there was no one there to witness my numerous handstands! I did a whole bunch of those and could feel the baby was more responsive in the water. I then did a whole lot of sidestroke on my right side...I could feel where the baby's head was and with where it needed to go, that position and movement seemed to make sense to guide it down. In between sidestroke laps, I was gently guiding baby's head back down with my hands...in retrospect, it was really neat that I could tell what to do and I'm grateful for a posterior placenta and even for the diastasis recti that possibly helped me be able to better feel what was going on. After a while of doing that I thought I felt a shift, a feeling of it being "right." I looked up at my husband who was outside the pool and said, "I think...maybe?...I think I did it??!" And sure enough, praise God, it had worked! A few minutes later the kicks at the top of my belly were the most welcome and delightful reassurance that I was right.
Thank you, Jesus, that it had worked and so quickly but man, that little episode did a huge number on my confidence for the next week. There were some rare moments of peace and acts of trust and abandonment but for the most part I was afraid to lie down or turn and every time baby moved more than a little bit, I was on edge. Every kick up top was a huge gift and every time it felt like baby's head popped up a bit was the opposite. I just wanted to start labor already knowing that baby was head down and quit this terrible waiting and unknowing business. I felt a stronger pull to pray to the baby's guardian angel to keep him or her head down and guide this baby out easily.
The days still clicked by. Throughout all this we were in the midst of a several week heat wave of intensely humid 90 degree temperatures. I spent a ridiculous and maddening amount of time upstairs in my bedroom watching dumb shows, sitting on the birth ball, listening to some of my birth playlist, drinking copious amounts of red raspberry leaf tea, and trying to nap. Thank the good Lord that someone had given us a window air conditioner the year before that made the upstairs habitable. The rest of the house was a sauna and just being in it for a few minutes with 45 extra pounds and nine months pregnant was enough to turn me into a whimpery puddle.
Finally during one of the many typical insomnia episodes I was hanging out downstairs near midnight, folding laundry, entertaining a few contractions, and watching more dumb shows. I went to the bathroom and had some bloody show. Something was finally happening! A few minutes later I had a stronger contraction and danced into it feeling lots of pressure. I felt a small pop, a trickle, and was pretty darn sure my water had broken. It had never happened before that my water released before transition! I had a bit more bloody show, more leaks, texted my midwife to let her know, and stayed up for a while to see if anything more would happen but nothing did. I eventually went back to bed hoping that things would start during the night. By early morning nothing much had changed and my midwife said she'd come over after she went to Mass to see what was going on. After testing the pad and doing an exam we determined that apparently even after five full term pregnancies and being around a whole lot of amniotic fluid, a lady can still have a false alarm. My membranes appeared intact and either the leak was an extra amniotic layer that can happen sometimes or just a plain old pregnant lady urine leak. Color me relieved in some ways...I was GBS positive and didn't necessarily want my membranes open before very active labor and didn't want to be on any timeline for birth but also color me slightly frustrated and embarrassed. It sure as heck felt like my water and sure as heck seemed like fluid.
The next night found me up again in the middle of the night. Contractions were stronger and there were a few that began to intensify and get closer together. NOW things were happening for sure and the feeling felt familiar. I tried to work with a few, even pulled out the timer app to a few that were 4-5 minutes apart. I started to get things ready and told my husband that things might be starting and I might text our midwife soon. I started folding a load of laundry (labor or not, I wouldn't have been sleeping so midnight laundry had started becoming a thing). I put on a show and realized a few minutes later that things had slowed down. Again. I finally, exhaustedly gave in and went back to bed, waking on a Monday morning to no labor, no baby. Since I was still having consistent bloody show and was feeling pretty emotional the next morning, my husband decided he would stay home that day. It was already flagged as one of his days off since it was past our due date and none of our babies had stayed in that long. I was grateful and exhausted, entering into yet another 90-plus degree day, cloistered in my bedroom, heavy, desolate, beyond fatigued, with a genuine feeling of eternally pregnant.
Around 2:15 in the afternoon I noticed I suddenly had a few contractions in a row and that they were pretty intense. I gave my midwife yet another heads up and she said to let her know if they kept up for an hour. And thank the good Lord, they did. I texted again an hour later that they were about 3-4 minutes apart and quickly getting stronger and she let me know she was on her way. Just after that I also texted our (first ever!) birth photographer that it looked like it was time. My husband suggested praying a rosary but since it was the 3 o'clock hour, I opted for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. We prayed that together, him filling in for me whenever a surge hit and I couldn't talk.
My husband and older boys then got to work filling up the birth pool which we already had set up for a good three weeks in our bedroom. Our last birth at home we had had downstairs but this one I really felt better about being in our bedroom not only for the access to the air conditioning but also because it just felt more peaceful and was better able to be closed off and private if need be. The pool filled and we told the older boys that it looked like it was finally time. My husband set them up with a movie downstairs while I worked upstairs. I remember feeling really hungry and knowing I needed to eat which I've never really felt during labor, especially since most were in the middle of the night. I was craving peanut butter and jelly and fruit and took bites in between the waves. Our oldest son helped with filling the tub and grabbing me water and my computer so I could start my birth playlist. I had made two - a "fun" one and a more reflective, meditative one. I chose the fun one and kept it going through the whole birth.
Things quickly got more and more intense and I asked my husband to try doing a double hip squeeze to see if it would help. I'd done them countless times on other moms in labor and had never actually had them done myself! And - whaddya know? - they do make a huge difference! It was still powerful labor but those squeezes really took an edge off. I showed him exactly where to push and asked several times for them to be stronger and not to dare let go until it passed. This was the first time I remember really really needing him with me during every contraction and getting nervous if he ran downstairs for something or wasn't right there when one would start. We spent that time while the pool was filling with me leaning over the bed and with him squeezing. During that time the photographer arrived and shortly after that the pool was full and I was more than ready to get in.
The water was perfect. For a few contractions I'd stand to get it going then drop into the water and hang over the side and sway for relief, moaning and doing "horse lips" without even thinking. I called out to Jesus multiple times. I told our Lord out loud with several of them which intention I was offering the crazy pain up for. Our three year old Ben came in around then and hung out for a bit and even held the little fan for a few minutes for me when things got too hot.
Our midwife and her assistant both arrived right around then. She checked the baby's heartbeat and it was doing well which I was so grateful to hear. Not only was baby head down giving me some reassuring kicks up high once in a while but he or she was doing great. I could officially not worry and focus on just having this baby...not that the transition surges were giving me much room for mindful gratitude at the moment. I was starting to vocalize more and asked my husband to get in the tub with me to start the hip squeezes again. A few crazy mind-blowing, biting-the-washcloth contractions later, I felt the pressure I was waiting for. I told them it was time to call up the boys.
All of the boys had been sure that they really wanted to be at the birth and as long as they were okay with the ground rules and could respect the space and any directions we gave, we decided we were okay with that. They had been so disappointed when they couldn't be a part of the last one and so much of me just wanted our family together. We had prepared them with how I'd be acting, what to expect, what not to do, and yes, I asked them to switch into clean t-shirts for pictures. A pregnant laboring lady has that say ;) And, of course, we told them that if it was too much or if they changed their mind, they could obviously leave the room. When they came in they filed over to the other side of the room on the other side of the bed and were awesome. It helped, I think, having the birth in the water so that they could be there without everything being right there there. The water and tub veiled everything just enough.
It was SO hot. I was doing all right since they had brought in a box fan and had it right on me but even with the air on full blast in the hallway, it wasn't much of a match against the 90-plus temperature mixed with the body heat of ten people in a small room that also held a tub of hot water. They did fine but I felt so bad for everyone!
As the pressure increased I felt my body start to bear down and my vocalizing turned into straight up yelling. Praise God I reached down after one or two contractions and in the midst of that intensity like no other I could feel that head - a head!! - inside. I flipped into a semi-sitting position and with another agonizing push, half his head came out. For a brief second I tried to intentionally slow down the push for the rest. It sat there for a moment and I remember my husband saying that the head was turning (as it's supposed to) but this one didn't just shoot out like the others. For the first time, I remember having another push to get the shoulders out.
And then then the relief and joy and awe and overwhelming gratitude as we slowly guided our precious REAL baby up to my chest! It sounds crazy but I honestly had a part of me that wasn't sure this would all end in a baby. For a few minutes all I could say over and over and over was "you're real!" and "thank you, Jesus."
We spent a precious perfect few minutes in that state. After a minute or two, I checked and saw that we had another boy! He looked slightly different than the others those first few minutes but within a day looked just like our other newborns with slightly more cheeks and chins.
The boys came over to see the baby which was such a beautiful gift. They told me his birth time was 5:18 and my nerdy Catholic number mind immediately realized that was the date of JPII's birthday, May 18. The immediate euphoria wore off as I started to get crampy again and could feel what I knew to be a tear.
I wanted to get out of the pool but first wanted get the placenta out in there. So I stood for a minute and tried to push. After one or two, it came out fine and gave that second rush of relief. I passed the baby over to my husband so I could safely get out of the pool and made my way to the bed. I was exhausted and had a good amount of blood but nothing dangerous. We got the baby over and he latched quickly but painfully and within minutes I could feel the afterpains starting already.
After a little bit I tried to shakily use the bathroom and get a tiny bit cleaned up and the boys all got a better glimpse of their new baby brother. I was feeling very light headed which I'm sure was exacerbated more than normal by the heat so I dizzily got back into bed fighting the temptation to black out and I asked for a cool washcloth and water. The repair took a good bit of time and while not fun, went fine. I was just so so so glad and relieved that he was finally out and he was here! I remember looking over at the clock in the middle of the repair and knowing that friends from my women's group were literally at Mass at the Carmelite Monastery that very moment for the feast day and had promised to offer it up for me. The grace was overwhelming.
The next hour was a beautiful blur of thanksgiving, cramping, pain, exhaustion, joy, brothers, and sweet sweet relief that he was finally out. In the midst of it we had his newborn exam. I knew he was bigger than the others and guessed an 8lbs. 7oz. He surprised us all with a 9lbs. 1oz.! (Four of my children were about 6lbs. 15oz., one was 8lbs. 3oz.!) He definitely looked at birth like what our others did at a few weeks old.
After everyone left we had a wonderful couple of hours into the night of letting it all sink in that he was finally out and finally here. The boys all took their turns and we all fell in love all over again.
His full name we finally decided to be Peter Simon Lolek. I've never been a three-namer but this one we just had to incorporate it all.
• Peter is primarily in honor of Venerable Fulton Sheen whose real given name was Peter...Fun fact, Fulton was just his mother's maiden name that started as a nickname but that he kept! The last few months of the pregnancy found me developing a love for him, his writings and worldview, and I just knew I wanted him praying for our son. We were blessed to take a trip to St. Patrick's Cathedral during the pregnancy and pray before his tomb before the idea of him being a namesake had even taken root. (Saint Peter is also pretty great and I'm sure will be interceding, too, ha!)
• Simon is a name that kept coming to me the whole pregnancy, mostly after Simon of Cyrene and I just loved the fact that it means "one who listens!" I wasn't positive on it but then when I learned that Saint Simon Stock was the reason the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was decided to be that day and it ended up as our little guy's birthday, it seemed like a clear sign that it was supposed to be part of his name. The Carmelites here were praying for this little one in their novena and with his blessing at the monastery, it also seemed especially ordained.