Confessions of Cultural Heretics

"When the whole world is running headlong towards the precipice, one who walks in the opposite direction is looked on as being crazy." T.S. Elliot

Archive for the category “Birth”

The Birth of Our Children Part II

This is the second part of the birth of our children.  This post describes the birth of our newborn son, Killian.  You can read about his older brother’s birth here.

Killian’s Birth Story

December 16, 2011 6:24 pm

8lbs. 4 oz

Our Decision

Our decision to plan a home birth for our second child was not a result of a previous horrible hospital experience or fear of the medical establishment, but rather a deep desire to remain in the peaceful, natural environment of our home during this blessed event.  Our firstborn, Joseph, was a natural birth (no IVs, pain meds, continuous monitoring etc) attended by midwives in the hospital. Although we were very happy to have had a natural birth and were pleased that our midwife was so respectful of our wishes, Brian had still had to fend off hospital staff throughout the entire labor who were trying to push for more monitoring and interventions we had made clear beforehand that we wanted to avoid. While Joseph never left our sight and was breastfed immediately, I felt like these were things they had “allowed” us to do rather than the typical course of events practiced. After a night of constant disruptions by hospital staff, we decided to go home where we would be most comfortable and could finally get some rest.

This time around we were more interested in the home birth option since we had some experience and I had encountered no complications during pregnancy, delivery or recovery.  Having been born at home myself, it was always an appealing idea to me growing up. Although not completely sold on the idea, Brian was open to meeting with the homebirth midwife in our area and discussing the option. Once we met her, there was an immediate connection. I felt comfortable with her philosophy and Brian was confident in her skill and experience.

Before the Birth

Our monthly appointments were slotted for an hour, which gave us time to really get to know our midwife and her apprentice and laid the foundation for a relationship of trust to grow between us all. Also, they were able to observe our family dynamic as Joseph always accompanied us on these visits. I was experiencing yet another uneventful pregnancy and we grew more eager with every passing month to meet the newest addition to our family.

The False Alarm

Finally the month of December came and we began to prepare our home for “birth day”. Joseph had been born the day after his due date, so I had tried to prepare myself to go all the way through again. A week before my due date I woke to contractions about 8-10 minutes apart. After hours of no change to their pattern, they petered out and we declared it a false alarm. From then on, every evening I would have a set of contractions that wouldn’t develop into anything. This was a new experience for me as I had never had any Braxton-Hicks episodes with Joseph. As my due date came and went, I began to believe I would never have this baby and questioned if I would even know how to identify the real thing when it did come. We began to talk about options to consider for inducement if I went beyond Christmas and we grew increasingly impatient.

It Begins

December 16, three days after my due date, I woke up around 1:30am to contractions, but was able to go back to sleep until about 4am when I couldn’t sleep through them anymore. They were coming about 8-10 minutes apart and since I couldn’t sleep, I decided to get up and walk around the house and see if that would bring them any closer together. So I ate a granola bar, had a glass of water and started praying a rosary as I walked throughout our house. Although still not painful, the contractions started coming about 4-5 minutes apart. Around 6am I decided to wake Brian and was happy to finally tell him “it looks like we’re going to have a baby today”.

We called the midwife to give her a head’s up and she said to stop walking to see if the contractions would stop this time and get back to her in an hour or so. Joseph woke up and we all ate some breakfast and got ready for the day. Once I stopped walking, the contractions slowed back down to 8-10 minutes apart, but were starting to demand a bit of my attention. Around 9:30 they were still coming and we walked Joseph down the street to our neighbor’s to play for the day. Then we headed to the Walmart plaza down the road from us to go for a walk somewhere warm. We walked for about 40 minutes and decided to go home and get some lunch.

The Midwife Arrives with Some Help

The contractions were coming every 4-6 minutes and our midwife decided to come over around 12:30 to get things set up. After about an hour, with still no significant change, she made some suggestions on what we could do to help things along if we wanted or we could continue as we were (as she said,  “I’m in no rush, it’s up to you”). After over a week of dead end contractions and fearing all of this would stop again, I was ready to get things rolling and meet the baby. So she gave me an herbal tincture called “Start it Up” and said to take another dose in an hour if things hadn’t changed. She was going to run an errand close by and be back by 3pm. Within 20 minutes the contractions had drastically changed, becoming closer together and much stronger. By 3 o’clock, I was running out of tricks to handle the pain and all I could think of was getting in the birth pool. Brian encouraged me to do so. He called the midwife to update her and tell her things had rapidly progressed and she quickly made her way back.

The Beautiful Birth Tub 

As soon as I got into the water, what blessed relief! I immediately knew I didn’t want to have another contraction outside of the pool. Through all this time, I still couldn’t believe I was in true labor and was afraid that things might stop. Getting into the water had been so effective in helping me deal with the contractions, I worried it might slow things down. In fact, the intensity of the contractions continued to climb yet they began to get farther apart and I anxiously said “aren’t they supposed to get closer together? Don’t you think you should check me to see if this is going anywhere?” To which my midwife responded by kneeling right in front of me, and assuring me that I could listen to my body and do what it was asking and that she knew where I was by just watching me. The fact that I was entering stage two explained why things had slowed down. At this point, everyone knew I had gone through transition but me. Again, I think the water helped take so much of the edge off, I was able to handle the end of stage one so well.  

Stage 2

Soon, I began to feel pressure and knew I wanted to push. I was vaguely aware of the midwife and her apprentice setting things up around the pool and monitoring the baby every few pushes. I had long pauses in between contractions and was sharing stories and little jokes with everyone or just closing my eyes and allowing myself to drift away. After over an hour I was growing tired and a little discouraged that I hadn’t made more progress. I told everyone I didn’t want to be doing this another 12 hours and they assured me I wouldn’t be and that they could see the baby’s head now when I was pushing.  My bag of waters still hadn’t broken and I felt like I couldn’t get a really good push until it did, so I began to focus on that. Finally, I felt the familiar pop as I had with Joseph and could at last believe that this was it and it was up to me now to get this baby out! During this whole time, Brian had been my rock, vocalizing with me through every contraction and reminding me to keep my tones low to stay in control. He cheered me, gave me water and juice between each contraction, and reminded me that we were having a baby!

This is about the time that Johanna’s memory of the event becomes a little blurry, so I will finish the tale.  As Killian began to crown and it was apparent that he was going to be born at any moment, the midwife’s apprentice took my spot in front of Johanna and I moved behind her at the direction of the midwife.  I suddenly realized that I was going to be delivering my child!  I quickly reached down under Johanna (she has been in a squatting position in the water this whole second stage) and I could feel Killian’s head as it came out.  Gently, I grasped his head with both hands and I applied slight traction, cautiously moving him back and forth.  Now, this was rather awkward for me because despite having delivered several babies, I have never delivered in the tub with the mother squatting (and I was standing outside of the tub this whole time).  So suffice to say, my orientation was a bit thrown off after the long day of coaching my wife and trying to deliver in a new position.  However, very quickly Killian’s shoulder emerged and soon after he was completely in the water.  We kept him submerged for the moment (one water environment to another) while we moved him through Johanna’s legs so she could bring him to her chest.  As he emerged the cord was loosely around his neck, so we removed it and in a blink of an eye he was up on her chest and immediately started looking around.  This was simply where he stayed for the next few moments.

Stage 3

After a few minutes the midwife had me hold Killian on his back floating in the water while we waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating (basically waiting for the blood to stop flowing between Killian and the placenta).  It was an amazing sight to see this brand new baby calmly floating on his back in the water, just looking around.  He was so peaceful this whole time.  There was none of the screaming and crying that I had experienced time and again in the hospital.  Johanna was in very similar state, resting in the warm water, enjoying the sight of her son.  Eventually (it felt like forever!) the cord stopped pulsating and I cut it and Johanna began working on the delivery of the placenta.  We dried Killian off, and soon Johanna was out of the water and we all went into our bedroom to rest.



The three of us sat in bed while the midwife and her apprentice cleaned everything up.   I was hardly aware of what was going on outside of our room.  I called to our neighbors and soon Joseph arrived to meet his new little brother, and the four of us spent quite a bit of time sitting in bed just enjoying one another.  Eventually we called our families and looked over Killian to make sure everything was okay, but in general, it was a very peaceful and relaxing first couple of hours.

A Few Thoughts

Johanna mentioned above that I was a little hesitant about home birth at first.  This is very true.  After the birth of our first son, I had become very supportive of natural birth, and those feelings were only reinforced by my experience on the Labor deck.  At the same time, being in medicine, I knew of all the possible things that could go wrong during labor, and this was a bit frightening.   And yet, this was not an evidenced based feeling, but rather a completely emotional one, fueled by the way I was taught about labor and deliver in medical school.  Once I stopped to evaluate the evidence and I saw how safe a homebirth could be, and heard more and more of the wonderful stories from those who had given birth at home, my heart began to change.   I was set even more at ease when I met the midwife and I could ask her about different scenarios and know that she could handle it all.  I also was able to quickly come to trust her judgment and knew that if things headed south, she would make the right decision about transferring to the hospital.   And as I made the decision to support my wife in a homebirth, my confidence in this grew.  Now, I want to make it clear that I recognized that there were risks associated with the homebirth and that I had to come to terms with this.  It was a distinct possibility that I could lose my wife or my son or both.   But as I thought and prayed about this, I realized that in reality, I had probably as much possibility in losing them in a hospital birth as I did in a well managed home birth.  And I also came to a deeper understanding of the beauty of being able to bring your child into this world in your own home, an environment of peace and security, and a place where there are no strangers present.

This was an amazing experience.  I am reinforced in my positive opinion of homebirth by the fact that Killian was such a healthy and happy baby, and too that Johanna had no tears or excessive bleeding.  Now this is not simply because it was a homebirth, but because we made a choice to take good care of ourselves during the pregnancy and the birth.  Moreover, having the birth at home alleviated so much stress and distraction and allowed Johanna to use tools and positions not typically accessible at a hospital.  All of this culminated in a healthy and happy birthing experience.

-Johanna and Brian-


The Birth of Our Children Part I

This post is the first of two that describes the birth of our two sons.  While both were natural births, our first born was a hospital birth, while our new born was a home birth. We hope that the two experiences will shed some light our approach to childbirth.

All but one of my mother’s eight children were born before their due dates, so when I was pregnant with my first born, I just assumed that I would follow in the same pattern. The closer my due date approached, the more I began to worry about induction and other threats to my dream of having a natural birth with midwives.

On my due date, I went in to the midwives’ office so they could monitor my vitals and the baby’s heartbeat.  Everything checked out fine, and since the contractions I had were few and far between, I went home. That evening I was particularly tired and went to bed early, hoping sleep would come easily. Around 2am I woke to strong contractions. Although they were tolerable, they were too frequent for me to fall back to sleep, so I decided to wake Brian, who had taken to sleeping on the air mattress in the spare room due to my loud snoring which developed in late pregnancy.  Gently, I shook him and told him I needed help timing my contractions. Looking at the time, he said “are you sure?”  It had been such a long wait, I think he found it hard to believe that the baby had finally decided to come.

The contractions were averaging 4-6 minutes apart and were 60-90 seconds in duration. So much for starting short and slow. We called the midwife and she said we could go into the hospital or wait a little while, depending on how I felt. As my mom was going to be coming in for the birth and staying with us to help me with the baby, I suggested that we change the sheets on the air mattress and then see how it went. By the time we were done, the contractions were coming stronger and I decided it was time to head to the hospital. We gathered our bags and I dialed my Mom to let her know it was time and that we’d let her know when we were admitted.

We reached the maternity ward around 3:30 am and I was hooked up to a fetal monitor to record my contractions.  They continued in their duration and space and I was completely effaced and one cm dilated. I informed the nurse that I wanted one of the rooms with the birth tubs, but was told that both of the rooms were occupied and that the maternity floor was quite full due to six inductions that morning. It seemed like poor planning to me, but  we were grateful to get the last room after about an hour of walking the halls and slow dancing. The contractions were long and hard and I became sick, so I had to stay on top of my liquids in order to avoid dehydration and the need for an IV. The hospital staff notified the midwives and Irma came in around 8 am-the start of her shift. She checked me  and I had progressed to 3 cm. She suggested I get in the shower to help me relax. I found the water very soothing and stayed there for an hour, getting through the contractions by vocalizing and stamping my feet and hitting the walls with my hands in rhythm with Brian massaging my back. My back pain was increasing and I had to constantly have heat and pressure on it-keeping Brian busy alternating my hot packs between contractions. I was very tired and became worried I would run out of stamina before the end. Around 10 am she checked me again and I was still at 3cm and the baby was posterior, accounting for my severe back labor and intense, rapid contractions. Greatly discouraged,  I asked Irma about my pain relief options and what I could do to get things moving. Finally, I decided to wait another hour or so and follow the recommendations of position changes to see if things would pick up again before resorting to any interventions. We also took the clock down in the room at Irma’s suggestion so I wouldn’t become focused on the passage of time. Brian coached me actively through every contraction, reminding me to relax and open my hips while joining me in my vocalizing and feet stamping. We hit the shower again and I decided against being checked again-I had found my focus and I didn’t want to lose it. A little before noon,  they checked me and I had progressed to 8 cm! I was relieved, but my contractions were coming on top of each other and the pressure was becoming severe from my unbroken water. They had me turn on my right side to coax the baby out of the posterior position. Irma had warned me it would be very uncomfortable. She was right, but it was also effective. Brian had to leave during this time to get some things from the car,  but Irma stayed with me, massaging my back with oil to help me through transition.

When he returned, Brian called my mom to update her on my progress while she drove to Toledo. While they were talking, my water broke and I told him to get off! I was very close and having trouble staying on top of the thunderous contractions as they racked my body. Brian had to remind me to keep my moans low and controlled so as to avoid hyperventilation. He encouraged me and cheered me on, helping me to stay focused on this awesome task. Suddenly, I knew I needed to push, and the nurses encouraged me to start giving little pushes. Irma came back in the room and suddenly, they were positioning me to bear down and bring this baby into the world! It was all happening so fast and the power that came forth from my body along with the contractions was unbelievable. I heaved with all my might and was so focused that I had to be reminded to look in the mirror as the baby’s head crowned.  The midwife had me blow off some contractions as my pushes were so powerful and she didn’t want me to tear. Weeks before , I had been reading a book of birth stories and the women talked about the guttural sounds which they were shocked to hear come from them as it came to the pushing stage. I too had this experience, amazed by how barbaric I sounded, but too involved in the process to care.  I felt the intense burning ,or the “ring of fire” as they described it in birth class, as the head crowned and was delivered. One final push brought forth the shoulders and then the rest of the baby slipped into the hands of the midwife as if coated with Vaseline.

Someone exclaimed “the baby’s out” to my disbelief, and I watched as they sucked the fluid from the baby’s mouth with a bulb syringe.  “The baby’s not crying” I worried, but Irma assured me it was fine and then I heard the most beautiful noise I’ve ever heard-the first crackled cry of my new baby. The baby was placed on my chest within seconds and our eyes met-oh how bewildered those eyes looked! All I could say was “hi baby, I’m your Mom” over and over. Brian leaned over us and said “it’s a boy, hi Joseph”. Up to this point I hadn’t even thought to look or ask what gender the baby was. We had a boy! We were finally meeting the little one we had talked to for the past 9 months face to face! Oh, what joy and amazement, looking down at our son. My love for my husband intensified in that shared experience, to a level I had never imagined as we gazed with pride and admiration on Joseph, the manifestation of our love, now made visible to the world.


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