Updated: Mar 13, 2022
Emily Janaro is a Catholic wife, mother, and doctor of physical therapy student in the beautiful Shenandoah valley of Virginia. She loves drinking coffee and doing crosswords with her husband John Paul, as well as watching period dramas with her best girl friends from college. You can follow her on Instagram @emily_janaro where she shares reflections of the ups and downs of motherhood, helpful PT tips, and lots and lots of baby pictures.
I had a hospital birth with a Catholic, pro-life OB group who were very willing to respect my birth plan and let me pick and choose what interventions I wanted. I really trusted that they would do what was best for me and my baby while maintaining the sacredness of the birth experience.
This was our first pregnancy, and my husband and I read quite a few books and articles trying to figure out what to expect. My favorite by far was Mary Haseltine’s book, Made for This, because as I was reading it, I was able to get a sense of the bigger picture of birth. I kept a journal with my favorite quotes from the book and other Scriptures and quotes to motivate myself and remind me of what really mattered during labor. As it turns out, I didn't actually have time to read them once labor got really intense, but I loved listening to the Made for This Birth Praylist on the Hallow App.
The week before birth, I caught a bizarre, 48 hour stomach bug that caused severe vomiting and diarrhea. I went to the urgent care to get some fluids, but it turns out they couldn’t treat me because I was pregnant, so they recommended I go to the E.R. near me. After consulting the OB on call (who happened to be my absolute favorite), he told me to drive out to their hospital so that he could be the one monitoring me, rather than a random hospital OB I didn’t know. It ended up being a trial run to get a sense of where to check in, since it was the same hospital I would give birth in six days later. I felt so miserable, and on top of all the physical symptoms, my mother-in-law called us to tell us that my husband’s grandmother had passed away that day. I was beyond grateful to be cleared by my OB the next day to go back home. My blood pressure was down, baby was moving around more, and my Braxton-Hicks contractions had resolved. I wasn’t in labor, so they sent me home. Looking back on that whole weekend, it was providential that I had gone to my pro-life OB in the hospital, because he said any other random doctor may have pushed for an induction or c-section due to the reduced fetal movement. But all baby girl needed was fluids and food, just like me, and she perked right up again once I was feeling better. As my doctor put it, why make me more miserable by adding labor onto that when it wasn't necessary or meet my baby when I was feeling so sick?
That week at my appointment, I had a little miscommunication with the nurse midwife at the practice who wanted to put an induction on the calendar “just in case.” The week before, I was already 2 cm dilated and effaced, so I was hoping I would go into labor naturally and soon! Yet after the uncomfortable weekend in the hospital, I was more than okay with letting my body do its thing in its time. An induction was penciled on the calendar less than a week after my due date, though. Thankfully, I went into labor a few days after this appointment so I didn’t have to try to fight to postpone an unnecessary induction I didn't want.
Two days later, a Thursday, I began feeling like I was on my period, except without the bleeding. I had been walking a lot and doing exercises ever since my Tuesday appointment to try to get baby to drop lower in my pelvis and I knew something was different about the way I was feeling on Thursday. I felt bloated and crampy and started second-guessing my Braxton-Hicks. I tried not to time them because I knew it would only make me more stressed. I told my husband that despite how I was feeling, I really wanted to go see “A Quiet Place 2” in the theater like we had planned. So we got Chick-Fil-A and went to see the movie, although all the scary scenes with the mom trying to protect her baby were pretty emotional with my pregnancy hormones!
It was around 2:45 a.m. early Friday morning, that I woke up and felt my first contractions. I
had second guessed myself for a while, not knowing what they would feel like, so I just lay there for a while, timing them and trying to be sure. I lay there for a few hours until John Paul stirred and must have suspected something because he asked me if I was feeling okay so I told him what was happening. Contractions were about 15 minutes apart, but I could tell they were definitely more intense than Braxton-Hicks. The main difference, which I wish I had known before but I’ll know for next time, was the location and intensity. Braxton-Hicks felt like my abdominal muscles tightening higher up, while labor felt like crazy strong period cramps, a visceral pressure in my pelvic/lower back area that swelled until it was almost unbearable and then eased up. I didn’t have to guess when one was starting or finishing; it was unmistakable.
John Paul took over timing them and decided not to go into work so he could stay home and help me through them. We called both our families to tell them we were in labor but didn’t tell anyone else in case things slowed down and got farther apart or disappeared. We went for a walk in our neighborhood, played a card game (I made him promise not to play during contractions), and watched the Downton Abbey movie. My goal was to stay home as long as possible in my comfortable environment during early labor to minimize the amount of time I had to be in the hospital. John Paul was such a hero. He kept up a positive stream of encouragement, humor, and back rubs, and told me over and over how great I was doing and how I could totally get through it. I was so glad he was at home with me and taking care of timing contractions, so I didn’t have to stress about that aspect. He would tell me when to expect one but not tell me how many minutes it had been so I could just focus on each one and not how fast or slow I was progressing.
My contractions were about 10 minutes apart most of the afternoon, and each one lasted over a minute. I could tell they were very productive, so I tried to sit on the exercise ball or lie on my side to embrace the pain instead of standing up to try to get away from it, which was something I had learned from reading the Bradley Method book. We started another TV show, but the contractions started getting so intense that I needed to lie down in bed and really focus on getting through them. I put on the relaxing Hallow praylist, and let my body relax through each contraction. They slowly got closer together until they were about 6.5 mins apart. I noticed some bloody show when I got up to use the bathroom. My doctor had told me to call at 5 mins apart, but we live an hour from the hospital and my instincts were kicking in telling me I shouldn't wait much longer. So we got in the car and as my husband was driving, I noticed the contractions getting closer together until they were 2 mins apart by the time we arrived! I was surprised because I had read that often labor slows down in the car, but I had the birth meditations on speaker and I guess I was able to just breathe and pray through them enough for it to keep going.
Walking in was really tough because my contractions were so close together, I kept having to stop and cope. A labor and delivery nurse who had just clocked out saw me struggling and went to get me a wheelchair and take me up to the 3rd floor. They got me checked into the triage area and by this point, contractions were coming quickly. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion, like they didn’t realize how close I was to birth. I remember being worried that I’d birth in triage and I wouldn’t make it to a room in time. I saw the nurse midwife on call and internally groaned because we had had that miscommunication about the induction and I really wished my
favorite doctor was there.
I allowed her to check me and I was already 9 cm dilated! So I was in transition in the car and I hadn’t even realized how close I was to that point! A hospital nurse tried to put an IV in my wrist, however, she was having a hard time because my contractions were about a minute apart. She tried twice and failed, then got someone else who tried and failed, sticking me multiple times, all while I was having contraction after contraction. I started to instinctively bear down and push, and they finally got a room for me and wheeled me there. Everything was happening fast, but also kind of surreal slow motion.
Yet another nurse tried again to place an IV, and she slapped the bruise where I had had one the previous weekend to get my veins to pop out. Eyes watering, I desperately looked at John Paul and asked “Does she have to? I’m literally pushing. Tell her to stop!” Then the nurse midwife finally told them to stop trying. She told me I was still 9 cm and not to push yet, but I literally couldn’t help it. My body started automatically pushing, and I knew it wouldn’t be long.
I tried a couple pushes kneeling in the bed slumped over the upright back, but it was too exhausting. I tried side-lying but quickly couldn’t do that because the back pain was too much. So I ended up sitting/lying on my back hugging my knees while I pushed. It was more painful than I could imagine, and I felt scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But the nurse midwife and John Paul and the 3-4 nurses in the room were all cheering me on and I surrendered to the fact that I didn’t have a choice.
As I was pushing, they realized my amniotic sac was still in tact. The nurse midwife broke it and after that, just a handful of agonizing pushes later, my baby Maria was out! I had the chance to reach down and feel her head crowning at one point to motivate me, and John Paul said once her head came, the rest of her body just sort of slid out. They put her on my chest right away.
I clutched this slippery, squirmy baby tight to my chest and tried not to drop her while the nurse midwife sewed up my small tear. They let the cord finish draining and then John Paul got to cut it. My placenta then just sort of fell out anticlimactically! I was floored by how huge it was. Maria
started breastfeeding like a natural and it finally started to sink in. I had my healthy, vocal, perfect baby whom I had carried in my body for nine months. I had labored and pushed her out all by myself with no medications. It was the beautiful, sacred experience I had hoped for!