Two years ago, 18 months after the birth of our first daughter via scheduled cesarean section, I wrote a blog post about attachment parenting and the importance of birth bonding. My first birth was difficult, and it took me months to process exactly what had happened. I had been encouraged by my OB/GYN to schedule a c section, but it wasn't until months after her birth that I realized that it was completely unnecessary. I had a horrible case of PPD/PPA, and I was angry. Why did I willingly do this? What will the future of our family be due to my choice? I was in shock-- if this is what birth is like, I DEFINITELY did not want any more children. How does this play into our spiritual life? We are Catholic, so more babies were supposed to be (God willing) in our future. It took me about two years to decide that I, in fact, did want another child. I was weary, and I was scared. Would I have PPD/PPA again? Would I be able to cope? Is it fair to put my family through that again? I decided I needed to do anything and everything in order to prepare myself mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally for the birth of a second child. I knew that I never wanted to experience having a cesarean section again, and I was terrified about the fight I would now need to face in order to attempt a vaginal birth.
We decided to start trying to expand our family in June of 2013. When I didn't become pregnant right away we decided that God had a plan for our lives, and we started to live our faith more and rely on His direction for our family. When I used hear "everything happens for a reason" I would automatically roll my eyes, but after that summer, I can definitely say that everything, in fact, does happen for a reason: His reason.
My anxiety returned that summer, and I was forced to face it head on. It was the most difficult two months of my life, but I am happy to say that I came out on the other side stronger, and believe it or not, thankful for my hardships. That summer brought me back to Him. It made me realize that He has the most amazing plan for my life, and that I needed to be patient and accepting of His path. I became very devoted to the Blessed Mother during the fall of 2013, and I found my way to the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery) in St. Augustine, FL. It became my refuge, and she became my rock. I purchased a religious medal, had it blessed, and wore it every day to remind me to thank her for walking with me each day. I felt her presence in my life, and she helped me to become a better mother through her example. I prayed the novena on a regular basis, and I took every opportunity presented to me to walk with Jesus, and be his hands and feet in my community. I was shy and introverted, but by answering the call I was finally able to break free from my social anxiety and become involved in my parish community. I attended a Christ Renews His Parish weekend, and met with many wonderful women each week for a year. My relationship with those women helped me to continue my spiritual growth, and I felt like my life was on the path he had prepared for me.
In the Spring of 2014 we were given the gift we knew we needed to be patient to receive; I was pregnant. We were going to be parents again, and it couldn't have been a better time. Had I have conceived during the summer of 2013, I would have had many personal difficulties to face during my pregnancy. Everything certainly happens in His time.
I was pregnant, so now I knew I needed to prepare. I had spent the previous 18 months saving money so that I could experience birth in a different way the second time, and I had saved up enough money to pay for midwifery care, homebirth supplies, Hynpnobirthing classes, a doula, chiropractic care, and a placenta encapsulation specialist to ward off the unwanted PPD/PPA.
My husband and I spent the months leading up to my labor and delivery praying and prepping. We felt blessed to be given this beautiful gift, and we were going to do everything we could to welcome her into the world in a loving and peaceful way. I read all the Ina May books I could get my hands on, and we made several trips to the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche to light candles and pray for our unborn child.
I was due November 7th, so I decided that I would stop teaching on that Friday knowing full well that I could still have up to two weeks until our daughter would be born. My husband and I created a birth play list, I hung up all the birth inspiration art and artifacts I had been creating and gathering throughout my pregnancy, and we waited. On the Monday after my due date, Doodle Bug came down with a nasty stomach bug. To say I "freaked out" would be an understatement. I thought-- this was it-- I will catch this stomach bug, and my shot at a VBAC will go out the window. I called my midwife in tears. She told me to rest, and that even if I caught it I could still have a vaginal birth. That many women have given birth while having a cold or bug, and that if I needed it, I could get an IV of fluids. Her reassuring words put me at ease, and I began to clean, clean, clean the house again. Nesting-- you've never seen a pregnant woman nest like I did after that bug. I prayed in thanksgiving that I had not gone into labor before this bug-- what would we have done with a newborn and a very ill toddler? I reminded myself once again that it all happens in His time.
|41 weeks 2 days|
After I had cleaned the house top to bottom for what felt like the 100th time, I finally felt like I could leave the house, and I begin attending daily mass while I was waiting for our sweet baby girl to make her way into the world. I loved going to daily mass and seeing many of the women from my CRHP group. I knew that I was approaching my "time out" date of 42 weeks, so seeing those women and being joined in prayer each day helped me keep my mind focused. I began going to the chiropractor every few days, and I hoped and prayed that she would be coming soon-- at this point I really felt great, and felt like I would be pregnant forever! She showed no real signs of being ready until about 41 weeks when I started getting warm up contractions that would start strong in the evening and fizzle out while I was sleeping.
At 41 weeks 3 days I went into the hospital for procedural intermittent monitoring because I had gone past 41 weeks. They told me that she and I both looked "perfect" and that we could go home. I had been dreading this trip because most people before me said that they had a horrible experience at the hospital, and that they had wanted to admit them and induce labor. The fact that it went so well and that we saw such wonderful doctors and nurses that day was not a coincidence in my eyes. I knew He was looking out for us, and at 41 weeks 4 days I scheduled a relaxing "come out baby" massage and had my membranes swept for the first time. I was not effacing, and not dilating like I needed to, so I took an herbal supplement suggested by my midwives to help encourage effacement. They reassured me that they had never had to transfer a client due to timing out, and it wasn't going to start with me.
At 41 weeks 5 days I decided that I needed to stay in for the day. After my massage the day before, I knew I needed to rest and allow her to feel like I was ready for her to come. I was tired of being around people because they kept asking me what my back up plan was. I did not want to talk about the back up plan. I did not want to envision a need for an alternative. I stayed in bed that day listening to music (mostly "Mary Did You Know" and "Breath of Heaven") on repeat, and I cried. I cried a good, long, hard cry. After my cry, I felt a release. I needed to let go, and let God. I finally knew why it was taking me so long to do this-- I was terrified of what would happen after her birth. Would I experience the same pain? Would I fall into the depths of depression again? I had to believe and trust in Him. I had to put my faith in the fact that He had prepared me, and that I would not be abandoned during my hour of need. I prayed that I would be held in His loving embrace during the PP period. I got out of bed, picked up my daughter from her grandparents' house, and I was confident that baby would come soon.
At 41 weeks 6 days my husband started paternity leave, and we went back to the chiropractor for a quick adjustment and some encouragement and then off to my midwifery appointment to check on my progress. I was finally effacing, and was 3 cm dilated!! My membranes were swept again, and I could not contain my excitement. I would not time out, I would get the homebirth I hoped and prayed for. We went to lunch at our favorite sushi spot, picked up our daughter from preschool, and decided to walk around Target to get my contractions to kick into high gear. I was given tips to try doing Miles Circuit Positions to help encourage baby girl to get into the correct position in my pelvis. I started losing my plug, and I knew it was only a matter of time. I had gone into labor-- I had NOT timed out!
At around 12 or so in the morning the contractions really started to pick up, so we called our doula and hubby assembled the birth pool. I felt like I better eat something to keep up my energy, so my husband made me a peanut butter sandwich and some trail mix. I snacked, and the contractions started to pick up and become more powerful. We decided to try to watch a movie, but I became distracted. I started to silently panic again. This baby is coming-- I will be postpartum soon. My mild panic attack halted my contractions. I did not let anyone know what I was feeling, so we all decided that the doula should go home and that we should all try to get a little rest. After she left, I knew I couldn't sleep, so I shared with my husband my fears. He held me close, and reassured me (as he always does-- I am so incredibly lucky to be married and best friends with such an amazing man). We prayed the OLLL Novena, I clutched my rosary, and we slept (as best we could through contractions).
At 7 A.M. my hubby got our daughter ready for school, and dropped her off with the grandparents. We did not tell her I was in labor, and knew it would be a great surprise for her later. My contractions were about 3-5 minutes apart, so we called the doula, and she came back. She alerted the midwife, and Shea came to check me at around 10. I was only 4 cm dilated, so Shea needed to go back to the birth center for some appointments, but would be back to check on me soon. At around that time my amazing chiropractors came to check on me and adjusted my pelvis. They left to go help some mamas in St. Augustine, but promised to come back later in the day if needed.
At this time the intensity of my contractions picked up, and it was torture to be on my back. My midwives came back (BOTH of them were at my birth-- I felt so honored that they both-- even though having delivered 4 babies in 40 hours-- wanted to be there with me). I labored around the house being supported by my doula and husband. When they became too powerful to walk though, my doula suggested leaning over my birth ball on my bed. Up until this point I was able to communicate and laugh after the pass of each powerful wave. When I got back to my room and comfortable on the ball, the contractions became increasingly intense. This was the turning point for me. I knew that I would not be able to just "breathe through" them, and there was NO turning back. I did not expect the pain to be this intense. I had suffered with migraines for 15 years. I had taught myself to breathe through pain and could put myself to sleep when needed. I had planned to apply this practice to labor, but I knew at this point I would not be able to do so. I had been used to constant, long term pain. I had never experienced short bursts of intense pain before, and I didn't know what I should do to make the pain manageable. I refused to allow myself to panic, so I thought I would just need to pray. I asked my husband to retrieve my novena prayer card and to lead me in prayer. We said the novena during about 2 contractions, and I asked him to leave the card with me and prop it up on the pillow in front of my birth ball. I knew I what I needed to face this pain. I needed to surrender, and pray for intercession. I clutched my necklace, and I prayed.
During each contraction I silently prayed the final prayer of the Novena.
Cherished Virgin, Heaven's Queen, chosen before all women to be the mother of the son of God. Mary, my mother, who in your maternity so sanctified the state of holy motherhood, imploringly I come to you; humbly I beseech you; Confidently I trust in you. I know that by your powerful intercession you can help me in my need. In you I take refuge, dear virgin. Poor and needy I turn devoutly to you and place all my hopes confidently in your hands. Accept my humble trust, hear my petitions and come to my aid, dear Mother of mothers.
Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.
Let it be done unto me according to your word.
At this point I am not exactly sure how many hours elapsed. My husband believes it was approximately 6-7 hours of silence. In the beginning of my meditation I prayed the entire prayer, but as the contractions intensified and I moved to the birth pool, I began to focus each contraction on particular pieces of the prayer. I felt nauseated during contractions and would point for someone to bring me a bucket (though I never actually needed it-- thank goodness) or a glass of water.
Imploringly I come to you
Humbly I beseech you
Confidently I trust in you
I know that you can help me in my need
In you I take refuge
I turn devoutly to you
I place all my hopes confidently in your hands.
This beautiful and desperate plea for help kept me focused, and it was around this time that my doula was called to another birth. She is an amazing birth photographer as well, and her other client went into labor 3 weeks early while I went into labor two weeks late. I knew she had a replacement coming to be with me, and since I couldn't speak, I gave her a thumbs up to let her know I was okay. Shea decided to check me again, and this time I was at a 9. My doula's back up came, and she jumped right in, lovingly helping me back to the tub, fixing my hair, applying counter pressure, and feeding me sips of water. She was absolutely amazing. A short while later I was told that my chiropractor was coming to see me again. When she arrived I spoke for the first time in quite awhile, and I think it shocked those around me. I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think I can get out." Everyone laughed and realized I was speaking to Dr. Nicole. It took a few minutes and a few contractions for me to get out of the tub and walk the maybe 10 steps to the adjustment table she set up in my living room. Being on my back and side for the adjustment were excruciatingly painful, but the adjustment to my pelvis and neck immediately made me feel better. I asked to stand up, and as I held on to the back of my couch, I had a massive contraction, and my water broke!
As I was helped back into the tub, my doula (also a Hypnobirthing instructor and former midwife-- seriously, how lucky was I?!) explained to me how to do J breathing, and positioned me in the tub on all fours. I began to focus on the final part of the prayer... "Come to my aid, dear Mother of mothers." I needed Mary's intercession now more than ever. My doula told me that when I felt the contraction coming on I needed to bear down and rock back to my heels like I was doing child's pose in yoga. I did this for a few contractions, but since I figured I would have HOURS of pushing ahead of me, I decided to turn over and have a short rest. After all, I thought I was just practicing pushing. I did not feel any pressure or added pain. With the next contraction I "practiced" my j breathing again, and I started to feel some pressure. I thought my midwife was internally checking me, so I started to wave my hands and told her to "get outta there!!". She started laughing and holding up her hands. In my haze I heard Shea say, "It's not me! That's your baby. Reach down and touch her hair!" I replied with, "That's not possible, my babies don't have hair!" I decided to take her word for it though, and I was shocked with what I found. THIS WAS HAPPENING! This is real! My baby is almost here!! With the next contraction her head came out. I felt no "ring of fire." What I felt instead was her head MOVING. I started to laugh. "She's turning her head!! This feels so weird!, and with the next contraction at 5:37 P.M., Mary Maeve Elizabeth was out and on my chest. I was told I pushed for only 18 minutes.
I can't adequately explain in words what I was feeling in that moment. She was here. I did it. My body was, in fact, made to grow, birth, and nourish my babies. I had my loving husband, my fantastic midwives Hope and Shea, my encouraging chiropractor Nicole, and my amazingly supportive doulas Lori and Emily all cheering me on and praising me for what I had done. I knew I could not have achieved this beautiful, redemptive birth without each one of them and their loving and supportive roles. I sat back, and the lyrics of "Let It Be" by The Beatles flooded my mind. "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me... speaking words of wisdom... let it be." What a perfect song for our beautiful gift to be brought into this world to. I had to learn that lesson time and time again while I was preparing for her birth as well as during my labor. I had to let go, let it be, and trust in the plan God had for me. I had to lean on Mary. I had to have faith in her intercession. Best part of all? She was born on November 21st. She was born on the feast day of the Presentation of Mary. She knew exactly when she wanted to be born, and she waited for the absolutely perfect day to make her arrival!
After the placenta was birthed (this, to me, was actually harder than pushing out Mary Maeve-- I already had my prize in my arms, and the contractions had subsided... how was I going to push any more??), we moved back to our bedroom. She latched on to nurse, we chatted, and celebrated with a toast of a lovely Irish Meade, and she was weighed and checked out. 8 lbs 2 oz... a whole pound bigger than her sister. My body ROCKED this VBAC. I felt as though I could fly. After awhile, everyone left, and we cuddled in bed with our beautiful baby girl-- birth bonding at its finest :)
Two months have passed since her birth, and I am still on the "birth high." I am no longer afraid to have babies. I could definitely have more. I know that God is in control of my life, and that He has made me whole again. I am happy to report that I did not have any PPD/PPA this time, and I know that it was because I was prepared, guided, and held in the loving embrace of Mother Mary and God the Father. I remind myself of their role in this beautiful experience every day, and when I say my daughter's name, I think of Mary... listening to my call and coming to my aid. Everything happens for a reason, and everything happens in His time. She will be baptized at the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche this spring. My heart overflows with love for this sweet child of God.