"When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. Thenceforward we lived only for them; they made all our happiness and we would never have found it save in them. In fact, nothing any longer cost us anything; the world was no longer a burden to us. As for me, my children were my great compensation, so that I wished to have many in order to bring them up for Heaven" -- Saint Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, canonized October 18, 2015 along with her husband St. Louis Martin.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Renewal...Birth #3

Shortly after I had my second baby, I met up with some old college friends in the area who had just had their firsts.  Marrying so quickly after graduating, and graduating a semester early, had placed me well ahead of the curve of my friends in childbearing, even the ones who would follow a similar path to mine.  I finally had a mom's group in which I wasn't the youngest mother by a decade! It was a blessing.
An added bonus was that these moms somehow managed to be savvy and hip, well-read on new trends in parenting.  They challenged me in areas of child discipline and vaccinations and education where I had followed the status quo.  They also were hot on the trail of a new trend towards home birthing.  England (maybe Europe in general?) obstetrics is ahead of the AMA on this, but if you do some research, the assumption that hospital births are more safe is something that can be legitimately contested.  I had been so disappointed in my first two "tries" at natural delivery that I was willing to give anything a shot.  I figured the worst case scenario was that I'd be rushed to the hospital if a complication arose, and I had been so disenchanted by my hospital experiences, that I figured even that would be no worse than anything I'd already gone through.
After sharing a room (and bathroom, ugh!) with another mom in a crowded hospital, and after having endured the sleeping (and heavy breathing) father of that woman in the armchair next to the bathroom as he spent the night (illegally) and whom I startled awake as I made my way in slippers and robe to that shared bathroom, the idea of being tucked into my own sweet bed in my own sweet home sounded like heaven.  "My dad cooked up ham and eggs and I was showered and in my bed..." spoke the girl who had delivered her second in her bathtub (guess who this friend was? The one who had had the c-section in the birth story before this one!)...it sounded so perfect.
Some day I'll go into the details of how medically equipped midwives are and all of the cool things that come in a "birth box", but in all of the, now four, home births I have had, I have never once lost an item of linen to gory destruction.  I have never had a mess to clean.  I mention that simply because it's one of the questions that comes up more often than you'd imagine.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception I went to 8am Mass with my family, came home and had eggs and fruit with my Mother-in-law who had flown out to help after the birth and to watch my first two while I delivered upstairs.
The midwife arrived around noon. My water was broke. This time, instead of panic, there was a very. hot. bathtub, filled and ready for me.  That hot water took my transition-strength muscle contractions and relaxed them. I floated like a wet noodle, breathing and thinking: "This is the Bradley Method!"  My husband soaked my forehead in an ice cold washcloth and poured water over my belly.  The midwife popped in ever so often to listen to the baby's heartbeat.  About the third time she came in, she said I could push. I was shocked!
And my third baby was born.  I was wrapped in a big towel and robe, tucked into bed and I nursed the baby until he slept. Then I showered, the midwife and her assistant whisked the old sheets and plastic sheeting off of my bed (that hadn't been used) and the clean fresh sheets were waiting for me when I returned to bed.  I snuggled down next to my baby...and rested.
The days that followed were blissful. I sent my husband down with orders for food and drink. I called friends and family from my bed and raved about my pain-free birth.  And of course, we delighted as a family in our newest addition: another boy!
This time, instead of terrifying the younger women in my life, I remember telling my sister (who was probably 15 at the time): "You can totally do this!"
I was renewed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Second attempt...Birth #2

Despite my disenchantment with my first delivery, I was blessed with a healthy recovery and a beautiful baby.  By the time my fertility returned I was hoping that my first child would have siblings, and soon.  In God's great generosity, my prayers were answered: my first two would be 20 months apart.  This time around we found out what we were having: a boy!  We had a name that we had always wanted for a boy.  We had to move out of our one bedroom apartment into a two bedroom town house, which was an exciting "step up" for us as a married couple.  We celebrated our second anniversary and 6 months later, I was having a very honest conversation with my ob-gyn.  I explained that I had torn badly with my first. I explained that she was over 9 pounds, and that I'd dearly love to avoid a repeat experience.  The doctor confirmed and expanded my fears.  She explained that babies did tend to get bigger with subsequent pregnancies and that boys tended to be bigger than girls.  She said that we could set an induction early due to "macro-cephalia" (don't hold me to that medical term, but it meant "big head").  I further explained that the water breaking sent me into transition immediately (I failed to mention that I dilate a ton very early, which explains that to some degree.)  So, I was told that we could do a better job of simulating normal and more gradual labor if I was put on pitocin and given incrementally increasing doses.  It sounded like a good plan to me.
The date was set, and could you believe that once again I was sent home?! The hospital had made a scheduling error.  My emotions threatened to repeat an unpleasant past.  This time, however, we were able to return at 10am, so I avoided tears, if not a healthy critique of the medical establishment on the way home.
At 10 am I was given my first dose of pitocin.  I waited and the pitocin was increased.  By noon I was getting hungry, and there were no contractions.  My doctor came in and I queried as to whether or not it wouldn't help to break my water...given that nothing was happening at all.  The doctor told me that a woman had just been on pitocin for 32 hours (!!) and was now going in for a c-section because it went on too long. He suggested that breaking my water was a great option.  Great option, minus the fact that I hoped to go naturally and breaking my water throws me into immediate transition.  So, the water was broken, and I felt one contraction about 10 seconds later. Transition strength, super painful contraction. My thoughts? "Oh heck no!" I was not about to repeat the trauma of my first birth. I called for an epidural, got one, and my son was born in two hours.  Actually, he was ready to be birthed before then, but I had to wait for twenty minutes (not that I felt anything) since the doctor was tied up in that aforementioned c-section.
In a crazy twist of fate, I am friends with that lady who had the c-section. Our children are 20 minutes apart in age.  She got the shaft (treatment wise) too, since the doctor had promised that he would be the one to carefully stitch her up with a specialty stitch.  Since he dashed off to catch my baby, she had someone else finish her surgery.

My Mom was there to help me with my daughter while I had this birth.  She arrived to see me, four hours after delivery, attempt to stand for the first time (after having been catheterized, which luckily held no further complications for me) and witnessed my right leg buckle under me since the pitocin had not worn off yet.  Of course, it did wear off, but it frightened my mother to death.  She thought I'd never walk again after that needle in my spine.  And, quibble as you may about my mother's grasp on medical reality, it threw me to hear her so upset about my birthing decisions. She also suggested that waiting to push with my baby in the birth canal might have resulted in damage to my child.  Once again, super huge blow to my fun alternative to the trauma of my first natural birth.

Can you tell we're on our path to birth story #3? It's ok. That's the one where God swoops in and shows me that births can be natural and beautiful.  That's the one where my faith in myself as a woman is restored.  But that's next time!

Birth Stories...part 1

Upon the commencement of my eighth pregnancy, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the past 13  years of my married life, which have been filled with the trials but also the rich joys of being blessed with a growing family.  One trail that is worth hours of pondering, is the path that I have journeyed in searching to make peace with the birthing of my children.  I lamented to my husband, as I awaited the birth of my oldest, that there were only two ways to get the baby out, and neither was particularly appealing.  Looking back, I can honestly say that each birth was a day of splendor and joy, but the means and methods of getting to that birth have been widely varied for me.  Each birth story is of incredible value to women who share the fate of childbirth.  Each is of incredible importance in the life of the mother, which is why I am grateful to be able to look back now, after more than a decade of experience, and process what is overwhelming in the moment, and miraculous in the everyday.

I am not one of those women who "always do the same thing", physically or otherwise.  My Mom was pretty textbook with her eight deliveries.  About 10 hours of labor, increasing in difficulty until the natural delivery took place in a hospital.  Yes, my brother Michael was born before the doctor (or anyone else) entered the delivery room.  She had tried to tell them he was coming.  And my brother Jake was a hefty 9 pounds 14 ounces, two weeks overdue. My Mother did think the end had come at that delivery.  But mostly, her children were around 7 pounds, on time, and all of them naturally delivered, medication free, and in a hospital, even if my Mom was only there for 10 minutes before the baby was out--but that's due to her stubbornness (because, of course, she had to make it to Mass on Sunday first...and throw in the wash before she went), and not due to the speed of her labor.

Interestingly, my Mom didn't think much of the pain of childbirth.  The experience was so beautiful and  spiritual for her that she boasted to a nurse that she "could do it again right now" as she held her first.  I hate to throw too much out there, but I do feel the need to add that my Mom went so far as to say that the women who screamed during childbirth...were wimps.  This is important, because it was taken very much to heart by me as I prepared for my first child to be born.  With such a buildup, is it any wonder that I was incredibly confident?  I am the oldest daughter in my family, so I didn't have anyone to suggest that childbirth might be otherwise.  Women who encouraged me to get an epidural were pretty easily written off...because they obviously were not what my Mother was.

I went two weeks overdue with my first.  Our induction was mis-scheduled, so we arrived at 7 am expecting to deliver our child, only to be told that the date of induction was the same day the following week...which was far too late to be induced.  Our doctor put us on an emergency list. We toted our carefully packed suitcase home and waited to hear confirmation that I would be induced the next day.  This took a rather large emotional toll on me.  I cried all day.  At 5 pm we still hadn't heard whether or not we'd be induced the next day. My husband called the doctor and he said to be there at 7am, again.  I went to bed early, and tried to drop my emotions in time to rally for the delayed joy of knowing I was going to deliver this baby at last!

As fate would have it, I was in labor by the time 7am rolled around. I sat in a rocker, in a gown, waiting for the doctor to come in. I wondered whether or not I should mention the fact that I felt some strong and consistent contractions.  I was hooked up to a fetal monitor and the doctor himself noticed the contractions as he broke my water. Looking back, I wonder if I might not have been wiser to request that we hold off on the water breaking, given that I was in labor.  In any case, break the water did, and within 20 minutes, I was in transition.  Within two hours my daughter was born: 9 pounds, 1 ounce.  I'm not a particularly large woman, and I don't have a large bone structure.  This was a big baby to have so fast, especially as one's first.

There were the contractions that convulsed my entire body, which the thought of "relaxing through" (as my Bradley classes had taught me) or "breathing through" (as my Lamaze videos had instructed) was laughable.  And then there was the "pushing phase" during which my body went into auto-pilot and expelled the child out of me.  There was a wild shrill screech that I heard as if from a distance, which, when it ended, I was shocked to discover had been emitted from my own lips.  I think my head turned 360 degrees...but my husband won't confirm that.

When the precious child was placed in my arms, I rather quickly requested that this "little porker" get weighed.  When I heard the weight was over 9 pounds, I felt validated. Then I began to soak in her beauty and bask in the post-delivery high.  I was enormously proud of my baby, the biggest and most beautiful in the entire hospital, from my perspective.  However, as for childbirth...I had been disenchanted.  I explicitly recall meditating on the immortality of the human soul, and nothing but mustering a great act of faith in that belief enabled me to admit that childbirth was worth it. I also marveled at the thought that a sporting stadium was filled with human beings who had all come into this world in similar fashion. I honestly struggled to comprehend that the world was so populous. Deep thoughts for one clad in a gown that ties in the back.

"Words" were had with my Mother.  I did my best to dispel the myths that my Mother had been perpetuating to my younger sisters (who subsequently labored just as easily as she did and pretty much invalidated my experiences).  I tried to prepare my friends honestly.

What became clear to me, as these women went on to have their own first children, was that some of the women shared my pain, and some of them really did not.

It was later that I would discover that childbirth really does differ in pain or intensity according to many factors.  Some women truly do NOT feel the pain another woman felt. How do I know? Because my third baby (and my seventh) were birthed with something I could almost describe as pain-free.  It was physically exhausting, and emotionally weighty, but not violent. My first birth had been violent. And now I see that that set me on a very long path to making peace with childbirth.  That path is what I hope to track over the course of these entries...I'll try not to dawdle, we've got six more stories ahead of us!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I've been encouraged before, too

I was clearly touched by the cheerful words of the man who was proud of the record he and his wife held--having 8 children in 11 years--that I posted about yesterday.  I wonder what our record might be some day, and I hope I can tell some sweet young mom how many I survived!;)

It occurred to me that there is one more very very beautiful witness that I received shortly after the birth of my seventh child.  It was our very first trip back to daily Mass.  Now, daily Mass goers tend to sort of "know" the other daily Mass goers, even if they haven't met yet.  Our family draws attention in general, but 7 children filing up for daily Communion definitely catches some eyes.  So, whether or not these people know my name, they had been watching me grow larger with each month of pregnancy, and when we ceased attendance for a week or three, I'm sure they had their suspicions as to what we might have been up to.

I'm always proud to take my babies to church for the first time, just because it's so fun to show them off.  This day was no different. Only, it was just as hard as it usually is...finding shoes, coats, etc. This time I couldn't find (for the life of me) a blue baby blanket.  It was cold, and I needed something, so out of desperation I grabbed my newborn son's big sister's old blanket, which did have an amount of pink on it.  This would not normally be a problem, but I knew that people would be watching and that if they saw pink, they'd guess "girl".  (This is indeed what happened, but I made great efforts to swath my son in blue from that day forth).

I was not in a good mood.  I was grateful to be at Mass, receiving Our Lord again, but I was suffering as overwhelmed and frustrated mothers who are pushing themselves a bit tend to suffer on the inside.  I was in consolation, though, having received Communion. I was regaining peace, and Mass ended.

Now here's the incredibly beautiful witness that I've been so long in getting to. It's just worth the build-up.  The parishioners began filing out.  An elderly couple who I do not know slowly moved past the glass windows of the cry room, where we were.  The old man held the arm of the old woman, who walks with a cane. They peered in, smiling huge smiles. And then that old lady with permed hair and glasses hooked her cane over her arm and clasped her hands together, shaking them in a victory shake over her head.  I beamed back and fought the tears that I do not have to fight now as I type.

This hobbling old woman, cheering me on for having successfully delivered a new child into this world.  Talk about the joy of those who believe.  Her life is loosing its quality.  She is past her prime and looking toward eternity.  I guess for me it was almost as if the "great cloud of witnesses," that the Bible speaks of as encouraging us and surrounding us, was made visible for me.  I know that Heaven rejoices at the creation of new life.  That day, the Kingdom of Heaven on earth was cheering too.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


We caught an elevator that led to the church of a nearby shrine.  One elderly gentleman was ahead of us and kindly held the door as our family filed in (this takes a minute...there are 9 of us).  I don't usually assume people are thrilled to share the elevator with 9 others, but I hoped we weren't too off-putting to this man on his way, as we were, to daily Mass.

"How many?" he asked. I usually let my husband speak in these situations, so I waited to see what would follow. Before my husband spoke, the man said, "We had eight in eleven years: did we beat you?!"

My daughter was very upset that my husband and I did not own up to the fact that we would have eight in 12 years and two months.  She is very proud of our numbers.:)  Either way, the man did beat us (and I clarified that they did not have any twins!)  Can I tell you how this inspired me? I mean, it's not the norm for couples to have so many children so quickly in this day and age.  One starts wondering about oneself! And this, this made me feel so very happy! In a previous generation there was a couple, a normal Catholic, open-to-life couple that had done this before.  I know of many such families, of course, but it's wonderful to meet another one...especially within the first days of discovering you're pregnant.

Thank God for Christian witnesses.  God bless that man and his family! I know there's a Bible verse about building one another up...insert that here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Easter blessing

This Christmas, we returned from our visit to my in-laws in the Southwest and got the stomach flu.  It took two weeks to travel through our family.  Then I got head surgery done on some hereditary benign cysts (TMI?) and then we got the stomach flu again.  When that was over we put in hardwood floors. This also took two weeks, during which the main living areas of our home were off-limits, and of course, it was the middle of winter, so...we were a little "tight".  Then my baby, not yet One, caught the worst croupy cough and fever we have ever contracted which kept him up at night for at least a week following the week of fever which had kicked off the illness.  And then it was Holy Week. I started feeling sick myself at the end of the prior week, no big surprise. But on Wednesday, my sickness took a suspicious turn toward nausea.  When I still detected that tell-tale symptom the next day, I asked my husband to please help me free my mind from suspicion and get me a pregnancy test.

On Holy Thursday, we discovered that we had been given an Easter blessing which is Due on Christmas Eve.

It is a beautiful thing to receive blessings from the Creator on high feast days.  One of my sons was born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and I always feel Our Lady's grace is poured out upon that child in a special way.  To conceive during the feast of the Resurrection of the Lord and to be due during the feast of His Nativity is also profound.  I reflect upon the unmerited gift of life, which no one can give or get of one's own volition.  I reflect upon the eternal consequences of the creation of an immortal soul.  All creation is changed for all eternity when God creates a new human life.

Those are the more lofty thoughts.  Then there are the name lists and the wondering if it will be a boy or a girl, and the praying that this child will indeed be born to us.  The natural reaction of elation and being thrilled and giddy at the thought of another child! ...and then at the very bottom of my admissions, there are the doubts and practical concerns that must be considered when one is expecting her eighth child.  The truth is, I am perfectly aware of the fact that I am by no means qualified to be a mother to this, or any, child.  Without going into detail about my personal defects, the truth is that this knowledge is in a way a consolation. I can't, but God can. He has and He will. It's my job to do my best to let Him do what I never could.  I just have to cling to Him, and the rest will be given.  So, I really am not sweating the details.  With 7 children already, it's easy to see that I'm outnumbered and failing on any given front at any given time...but I also see beautiful things in my children and my family.  To paraphrase what one pope said before bed each night ("It's your Church, God, I'm going to sleep"), I'm saying "They're your children, Lord, I'm going to sleep!"